The new Uptown parking garage should be completed and open by early January, and officials have now decided to make spaces free for the first two months.

After that, if things go as planned, 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. The garage, located at 60 W. Park St. between Park and Galena, will be free on weeknights and weekends.

The initial plan was to offer free parking for the first month so people could try it out and get used to it, but Karen Byrnes, who oversees the Parking Commission, said its board decided to double that.

“They didn’t think a month was long enough,” Byrnes said Tuesday after updating the Urban Revitalization Agency Board on construction and operating plans. 

The URA governs the Uptown tax-increment financing district (TIF), which captures property tax dollars from building improvements and new developments so they can be re-invested in that area of Butte.

Construction of the $7.4 million garage was funded on bonds being paid off with those tax dollars. The TIF was redrawn a few years ago with the new NorthWestern Energy building serving as the cornerstone of new property tax revenue.

The county agreed to build the parking garage as part of a package to keep NorthWestern Energy’s Montana headquarters in Butte and Byrnes said the power company is offering employees incentives to lease some of the 250 spaces.

The parking department is now taking names of those employees or anyone else who wants to lease spaces on a monthly basis, Byrnes said.

In the coming weeks, someone will call those on the list to shore up lease arrangements. Those wanting on the list should call 406-490-6270.

Construction crews are finishing outside brick work on the garage now and control equipment has been selected, Byrnes said. An unmanned kiosk will accept coins or credit cards for those parking hourly.

The kiosk will have a large “touch screen” that can operate in very cold weather, Byrnes said, so even those with mittens on can use it.

The parking garage has been at least a decade in the making, with initial design work done in 2007. But at the time, there wasn’t enough time left in an expiring TIF to issue bonds for such a major project.

A new taxing district was authorized in 2014 and in August 2016, commissioners authorized a URA bond of up to $8 million to pay for the garage. Officials have said it could bring in $70,000 a year in parking fees.

That money will stay with the parking commission, Byrnes said Tuesday, but in an account solely for the upkeep and maintenance of the building.

Officials are considering other ways of shoring up operating deficits at the parking department, which have occurred over the years for a variety of reasons.