Next month, after a decade of talking and planning and financing — and, in recent months, building — Uptown Butte will have a new parking garage open for business.
It won’t stir the kind of buzz that Butte’s waterpark will when it opens later this year, and it won’t be as cool and colorful as a new carousel that’s been in the works twice as long.
But to many in Butte, including lots of Uptown business owners, the 248-space parking garage at 60 W. Park St. between Park and Galena streets is a big deal.
“I was lobbying for this back in 2007,” said Butte businessman Ray Ueland, owner of the M&M Café and majority owner of Metals Sports Bar, both located Uptown. “It will bring people, and that’s what we need – people.
“Sometimes our (the city’s) marketing goes out to bring in people from outside of Butte,” he said. “We need people from the Flat to come on up, and parking is an issue.”
Some of that is perception, some of it is real – especially during weekdays. But it goes way, way back.
“I grew up in Butte, and I avoided Uptown strictly because of the parking,” said Marco Kurilich, who bought the old Gold Rush Casino building at 20 W. Galena St. last year and opened a new place called Richest Hill Casino & Lounge. The parking garage is just across the street.
“I thought about purchasing this building in the past a few times, and when I heard about the parking garage, it was one of the things that helped clinch my decision to buy the building.”
There have been setbacks and hurdles and controversies along the way, and there are those who still say a parking garage isn’t needed.
But when it opens, which is expected sometime in mid-February, those will all be in the past. County officials and Uptown businesses are now looking forward.
“This has been a very exciting project to work on, and I believe it is a catalyst project for more good things in Uptown Butte,” said Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s community development director. “The garage will lend to an increase in economic activity and vitality.”
About the garage
Ground was broken in August 2016, and while Sletten Construction of Great Falls managed the project and did much of the work, parts were bid out to more than 15 local contractors.
Crews hit one of their biggest hurdles in October 2016 when granite was discovered underneath an area where a bus stop had been located. That pushed work back a bit because the granite had to be removed before drilling and foundation work could resume.
The garage has four slanted levels with entrances off of Park and Galena streets, the latter one lower because of the sloping Uptown hill. The top level is outside, so cars there will still get rained and snowed on.
The county will either plow it regularly or contract that out, but Byrnes said steps will be taken to keep that level clear and safe.
The building has tension cables running through it, and it actually flexes ever so slightly to absorb the weight of vehicles without damaging the surfaces.
“This thing should never crack,” Chuck Hazlett of Butte, Sletten’s superintendent on the project, said during a recent walk-through. “This is a 250-year parking garage. It should last that long.”
There is a stairwell enclosed in glass on the northeast corner and another stairwell on the southwest corner, and giant, concrete blocks will prevent them from being struck by vehicles.
The sides of the garage are open to the outside air, helping disperse vehicle fumes and allowing people to see in and out for better safety. The view to the south is spectacular, of course, since one can see most of the Summit Valley and the Highlands.
The lights in the garage will stay on at certain times and be on motion sensors during others. The stairwells and elevator will be lit at all times, and there will be outside lights on both Park and Galena streets.
There are features that make the building fit with Uptown Butte. For example, prismatic tiles that cover the Park Street entrance were inspired by the glass skylights in the old vaulted sidewalks Uptown.
Restrooms are located on the Park Street level east of the entrance, but they will only be open on certain days and times, such as festivals and the farmers market on Saturdays during the summer and early fall.
On the top level, there are two fairly large and flat areas where gatherings and small events can be held during warm weather.
When it opens
In hopes of getting folks to try it out, parking will be free for the first two months after the garage opens. Even after that, plans are to make spaces free from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.
After the first two months, people can lease spaces for $40 per month, and others can park for $1 per hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.
Although talk of a parking garage goes back years, county officials committed to building one as part of a deal that resulted in NorthWestern Energy building a new $25-million Montana headquarters Uptown.
Byrnes said NorthWestern Energy is offering incentives for its employees to buy monthly permits, and so far, about 40 are on a list to do so. She expects more when the free period ends but says there should always be spaces for the general public.
Although a final decision is still pending, county officials seem likely to choose easy-to-operate kiosks made by a company called Cale as their “parking meters” for the garage.
People will be able to pay with cash or credit and debit cards, and there are ways to make the transactions through smart phones. That could include buying more time from a seat in an Uptown restaurant or business.
It should be possible for businesses to purchase temporary blocks of spaces for special events or promotions, too, Byrnes said.
“I have heard from multiple Uptown business owners how excited they are for the garage and believe it will improve their business,” she said.
Ueland and Kurilich are banking on it.
For years now, Ueland said, there’s been a “perception that there is no parking (available) Monday through Friday.” The garage should help diminish that.
Kurilich, who hopes to add a restaurant soon to his Richest Hill Casino and Lounge, said he’s looking forward to the opening.
“To have parking right across the street is huge, especially in the evenings and weekends when parking is free,” he said. “When you’re in the casino and bar business, that’s really your prime time.”