Eighty to 150 motorists a day have been using the new Uptown parking garage since it’s “soft opening” started earlier this month, a county official said Tuesday.
The bigger test will come in April, when its 248 spaces are no longer always free.
“I hope that once we start charging that people will pay and keep using the garage,” Dale Mahugh, chairman of the Urban Revitalization Agency Board, said during an update on the garage.
The briefing also included an explanation on why decorative, mosaic tiles on the Park Street entrance to the $7.4 million garage appear warped. The prismatic tiles were inspired by the glass skylights in the old vaulted sidewalks Uptown.
Rick Chappel, owner of the Uptown antique store Beautiful Things on Broadway, said he noticed the warp while driving past the garage recently.
“I am only a citizen who lives Uptown, and I want it to look as nice as possible,” he told the URA board, which oversees the Uptown taxing district that financed construction of the garage.
He isn’t imagining things.
Jeff Kanning, the chief architect on the project, acknowledged that all of the tiles are not flush. That’s in part because they overlay part of the building where two parking levels come together, he said.
Beams on the four-level structure also are tapered a bit, he said, and the entire garage is built to move and sway slightly. That allows it to absorb the weight of vehicles and last for decades.
Workers could have put backing on the mosaic or filled in the area that isn’t flush, Kanning said, but they were concerned the movement would cause some tiles to come loose over time.
Karen Byrnes, the county’s community development director who has overseen the project for Butte-Silver Bow, said she shared that concern.
“We are trying to make it last,” she said.
Chappel said he planned to share the explanation with a couple of people knowledgeable about such things. But he said the garage itself was a great addition and he just wanted to be heard as a citizen.
Byrnes said parking officers have been counting cars in the garage at 60 W. Park St. since it opened Feb. 15, and daily use has ranged from 80 to 150 cars. There were more than 130 parked there shortly before noon Tuesday.
Contractors still have a few finishing touches to make and electronic kiosks — easy-to-use stations that take parking payments — won’t be installed until April. At some point that month, the county will start charging for parking during weekdays.
Monthly permits will cost $40 and others will pay $1 an hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Parking at night and on weekends will be free.
County officials say the prices are a bargain compared to many other places and parking is convenient. Mahugh said he hoped it would mean fewer people “car hopping” — moving vehicles every two hours on the streets to avoid tickets.
Board member Jim O’Neill said he and a group came to Uptown for lunch the other day. If the garage wasn’t there, he said, they would have gone somewhere on the Flat to eat.