SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A quirky eastern South Dakota landmark dedicated to all things corn is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation in an effort to draw in more maize-curious visitors, including lit domes that resemble an ear of corn.
The Corn Palace bills itself as the world's only palace dedicated to the grain plant. Murals using about 275,000 ears of corn of various sizes and colors decorate the exterior and interior of the building in the small town of Mitchell. About 200,000 tourists visit the attraction each year, greeted by corn jewelry, photographs depicting the history of the Corn Palace and South Dakota memorabilia.
The murals, which display an array of colors thanks to the natural blue, orange, black and other colors of different kinds of corn, are changed every year. The palace caught the attention last year of "The Colbert Report."
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.
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@ap.org or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton .