WILLMAR -- Consultants studying downtown parking say more parking spaces would be made available for shoppers by asking downtown employees and residents to park their vehicles on the fringe of the downtown core area.

The downtown core is centered mainly on Litchfield Avenue and Fourth Street Southwest where people perceive there's a parking shortage.

The consultants say more parking spaces in the core could be freed up for customers by enacting a permit program that allows long-term parking and by loosening parking restrictions on the fringes.

Part of the perception is caused by the fact that employees and potential residents are parking on the street in front of businesses and storefronts where customers want to park, says Adam Arvidson, a landscape architect from Minneapolis and half-time urban planner for the Willmar Design Center.

"We're trying to move those a little more to the edge so there can be more customer turnover in that core, which will begin to allay the issue that people perceive that there's not enough parking,'' said Arvidson "There's not necessarily enough parking right where people want it.''

Possible steps the city can take to increase parking where it's needed are among recommendations made by Arvidson and Lance Bernard, associate with SRF Consulting Group of Minneapolis.

The recommendations were included in a preliminary report given to the City Council this week. The consultants' final report will be available Sept. 1, said Bruce Peterson, planning and development director. He said Arvidson and Bernard have conducted a parking inventory, analyzed downtown parking conditions, and worked closely with a nine-member technical advisory committee.

Committee members are Peterson, Arvidson, City Planner Megan DeSchepper, Police Chief David Wyffels, Rice Hospital Chief Financial Officer Bill Fenske, downtown business owner Gary Geiger, City-County Economic Development Commission Director Steve Renquist, Chamber of Commerce representative Brian Bollig and Kandiyohi County representative Andy Thorson.

The consultants found there are 2,688 downtown parking spaces in a 26-block area located between First Street South and Seventh Street Southwest and from Pacific Avenue to Minnesota Avenue. Some downtown lots have unused spaces.

Arvidson said the total number of spaces downtown is adequate for the current state of downtown and for potential redevelopment. However, the issue comes in utilization.

In general, Arvidson said, "what we want to do is shift how people use the parking within downtown in order to make it a better experience for all those that use parking. Right now the complaint seems to be that there's a parking problem downtown. But I don't think its a quantity problem. I think it's a proximity and a turnover and use problem.''

Mayor Frank Yanish asked Arvidson if the council has the final decision on what happens. Arvidson said the report was funded by other organizations and supported by the city. Arvidson said the report will be a resource for the council and staff. He said the council and staff can decide to act on any of the recommendations.

"You don't necessarily need to adopt the report. It's more of a resource document,'' he said.