Butte’s Uptown parking garage has been light on cars since the coronavirus hit, but it has become a hot-spot hang-out for some youngsters in Butte and they’re causing problems.
They’ve been sitting on open ledges dangerously, making noise at night, throwing food down below and some have been skateboarding from the top level down and using the elevator to go right back up.
“Skateboard down, ride the elevator back up. Skateboard down, elevator back up,” Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s community development director, said Tuesday.
Sheriff Ed Lester says none of it has amounted to “crime of the century” stuff, but police and county officials want to end the activity before it gets worse and someone gets seriously hurt.
Police used a citizen’s cell-phone video to track down a few of the teens and Lester and Byrnes called their parents Friday.
“I have no doubt the parents I talked to will take care of business,” Lester said. “We just need to get the kids to spread the word that the garage is not the place to hang out.”
Byrnes detailed the problems Tuesday to the board that oversees the Urban Revitalization Agency, the special taxing district in Uptown Butte. The URA used taxpayer-backed bonding to finance construction of the $7.5 million parking garage, which opened in early 2018.
Byrnes said she wasn’t sure if the activity was a result of the pandemic or just kids “being bored,” but the garage has recently become a popular hangout, including at night.
“It seems to have spread through social media that it’s a fun thing to do and they have been gathering on the upper floor,” Byrnes said.
She said parking is down significantly because of COVID-19. The garage is used heavily by employees of NorthWestern Energy, who paid for monthly permits, but many are working from home now because of the pandemic.
For now, that has allowed the county to block off the top three parking levels with a chain-line fence in hopes of curbing skateboarding and trespassing. But parking will pick up at some point again, so officials might install a security gate that would roll down automatically at night block off the top levels.
They are still looking at options and costs for doing that, Byrnes said. If there were vehicles on the upper levels when the gate rolled down, they would trip a sensor on the way out, causing the gate to roll up momentarily so drivers could exit.
There are some video cameras in the garage now and there are plans to add more, but the recent footage came from a citizen. It showed the license plates of a few cars on the top level and information from that was used to call the parents.
Byrnes said the soft approach was taken for now because “we were all kids” once and the recent activities had not resulted in serious damage.
She and Lester want to keep it that way and make sure nobody gets hurt. One time, a kid was doing cartwheels on the top-level ledge. He was skilled and got away with it that time, the sheriff said.
“We were all kids once and it’s an inviting place to hang out, especially when you have a little ski lift that takes you up the top row,” Lester said. “But it’s not a good thing. We don’t want to have to write anyone up for trespassing, but we are going to have to if they don’t stop hanging out there.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.