SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A quirky eastern South Dakota landmark dedicated to all things corn is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation, including new lit domes resembling ears of corn, in an effort to draw in more maize-curious visitors.
The Corn Palace bills itself as the world's only palace dedicated to the grain plant. New murals using about 275,000 ears of corn of various sizes and colors decorate the exterior and interior of the sprawling building each year in the small town of Mitchell. About 200,000 tourists visit the attraction annually.
Originally established in 1892 for settlers to display the fruits of their harvest, the Corn Palace has undergone several changes over the years and is now used for a variety of local activities, including graduations, proms and basketball games. But local officials are looking for something more exciting.
The Mitchell City Council approved a $7.2 million upgrade Monday to the attraction and the adjacent soon-to-be vacated City Hall building, including new domes that will look like an ear of corn with the silks of the corn coming off, said Corn Palace director Mark Schilling.
A balcony, larger murals and a widened lobby are also planned, along with upgrades to the building's heating and cooling systems.
"The Corn Palace is the pride and joy of Mitchell, so we want to make sure our icon is kept fresh and looking good," Schilling said.
The renovations will also help honor the attraction's roots, Schilling added, noting that photos of the original Corn Palace in 1892 show larger murals and different types of domes.
The murals are created with corn of various colors, including blue, orange and black, and are changed annually based on a different theme. They've portrayed such things as Mount Rushmore and cowboys riding horses.
But Doug Dailey, chairman of the Corn Palace Area Development group, said people often drive by and take pictures, without stopping to take a look inside the Corn Palace, which is a free attraction. So the group plans to add exhibits, including one recently purchased from the Indiana State Museum.
"The idea is that people want something to do when they get there, and there really hasn't been anything to do other than to look at it," he said.
Opening up the windows to allow in more light and adding a balcony so visitors can get closer to the corn murals will make the building more inviting, he added.
"At this point, our focus is on tourism, that we can get more visitors and get them to stay longer," he said.
Crews will begin the process of hanging new murals in late August, Schilling said.
A drought last year hurt some of the colored corn used in the murals and the Corn Palace was forced to decorate its building without four colors: blue, calico, orange and light brown.
It was a predicament that worried Schilling and other local officials, but one that comedian Stephen Colbert found humor in. "The Colbert Report" traveled to South Dakota to film a seven-minute "special report" titled, "A Shucking Disaster _ Nightmare at the Mitchell Corn Palace," which lampooned the issue.
Contact Kristi Eaton at keaton(at)ap.org or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton.
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