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Council committee to hear about need for parking study

WILLMAR -- Some people may believe the current mix of on-street parking, municipal parking lots and small private parking lots is adequate to meet the needs of Willmar's downtown businesses and customers right now.

But the hypothetical question could be: What would people like downtown Willmar to be 20 years from now and does the current mix of parking fit that criteria?

That's the question a long-range downtown parking need assessment could answer, the Willmar City Council's Community Development Committee was told Thursday afternoon.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, gave the committee an overview of what a long-range parking need assessment is, why do it, who would do the work and who would pay for it.

Committee Chairman Jim Dokken asked the committee to receive the matter as information for further discussion at the upcoming council meeting Monday night.

After his presentation, Renquist told the Tribune the idea for the assessment started with the Willmar Design Center, which had initiated earlier this summer a discussion about a parking ramp. But the idea of a parking ramp was shelved after the City Council in June approved a motion saying council members did not want any public money spent on a parking ramp feasibility study.

After that vote, the discussion turned toward the overall parking needs of the city's central business district and nearby neighborhoods and the Design Center asked if the EDC was interested in perhaps co-hosting the parking study.

Two weeks ago the EDC's joint operations board approved a recommendation from its business retention, expansion and recruitment committee to study current and future downtown parking needs. The recommendation was to be forwarded to the joint powers board.

Renquist told the Community Development Committee that the EDC is well aware that not everyone in the city entirely appreciates the idea of a study on additional parking.

"But we believe that decisions that we make for the economy are frequently done for 20 years rather than the next 20 months,'' he said. "Recommendations we have we believe will be on that order.''

In any urban downtown, including Willmar, there is a heavy reliance on on-street parking, he said. There are several municipal lots and small private lots that allow for longer stays.

"There are those of us that feel that these are insufficient, especially for the downtown Willmar that we want to be. Some people feel for the downtown we have right now that parking is sufficient,'' said Renquist.

"Some of us believe that for the downtown Willmar that we want, the one that will create more businesses, will create more jobs and create more property taxation, that we need more parking,'' he said.

Dokken said that's also a question Mayor Frank Yanish wants answered because he wants to make downtown a destination.

"What will drive downtown becoming a destination? And if it does become a destination, we're certainly going to need a parking ramp or something at that point,'' Dokken said.

Renquist asked if the city should wait for that to happen and then respond to it or cause it to happen. "I believe we create the environment in which success can happen,'' he said.

Renquist said the EDC readily acknowledges that the senior authority in all matters within the city is the council and its committees.

"We've expressed our opinion and if the City Council or its committees directs otherwise, then that probably will be end of that story,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150