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Parking ramp concept revived; EDC asked to support feasibility study

WILLMAR -- A parking ramp is once again a possibility for downtown Willmar.

The joint operations board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission was approached Thursday about sharing the cost to conduct a feasibility study for a downtown parking ramp.

Two consulting firms have already been chosen as finalists to conduct the study, said Adam Arvidson, a consultant for the Willmar Design Center who is working with the nonprofit urban design center on the project.

The study carries an estimated $30,000 price tag. If it moves forward, it could be completed by early fall, paving the way for more discussion.

Local officials have talked on and off about a downtown parking ramp for at least the past two decades. Various locations and designs have been proposed but none ever came to fruition.

Now the concept has been revived and is being propelled forward under the leadership of the Willmar Design Center.

"It feels like it's time to really do it," Arvidson said.

How much would it cost to build a parking ramp? Where would it be located? How many parking spaces would it contain?

How should it be paid for? These are all questions that a feasibility study would help answer, Arvidson told the EDC operating board Thursday.

"A feasibility study is critical to gaining an understanding to this project," he said.

More importantly, it would help develop broad agreement for what the project should look like, he said. "We need to bring the different parties together around one consensus idea... This is as much process as end result."

Organizers believe one of the biggest beneficiaries of a downtown parking lot could be Rice Memorial Hospital and the many patients, visitors and employees it draws each day.

Hospital officials couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday but Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said Rice has shown preliminary support for exploring the concept of a parking ramp.

Renquist and a design center team have met with senior administration at the hospital to discuss the project. Rice is willing to pay for half of the cost of the feasibility study, Renquist said Thursday.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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