A local photographer who uses the top floor of the Second Street parking garage as a photo staging area is asking the city to reconsider plans to block off access.

James Behmke of Columbus said he and amateur photographers and stargazers use the garage roof to watch supermoons and other astrological shows — taking cameras and telescopes to get a closer view.

He told the Columbus Redevelopment Commission that a proposal to put fence around the perimeter would block his ability to take photos of the downtown from that elevation.

“It’s the only place to get a shot like that,” Behmke said, referring specifically to photos he has taken of the Bartholomew County Courthouse clock tower and the Robert N. Stewart Bridge from the parking garage.

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In January, the redevelopment commission began looking into increasing the types of barriers to keep trespassers from climbing over the edge of the Second Street parking garage, which is owned by the city, and accessing The Cole apartments roof, which is next to the garage.

Wire cables and a concrete barrier are installed to stop cars parked on the roof of the parking garage.

But on a portion of the garage roof, a gap extends all the way to the bottom level of the garage. Individuals are jumping over that gap to get to The Cole’s roof.

“How much can the government do to try to protect these people from themselves?” Behmke said. “To make that jump is just stupid.”

Redevelopment Commission chairwoman Sarah Cannon said The Cole’s staff had contacted the city about damage resulting from trespassers who have jumped over to the apartment roof. One person eventually ended up on one of The Cole apartment balconies, which was disconcerting to the resident who lived in the apartment, she said.

“This is more than just trying to protect people from themselves,” Cannon said.

The city’s potential liability of someone being injured or killed there is a concern, she said.

So far, the commission has purchased gates to block off roof-top access by cars in both the Second Street and Jackson Street garages after hours, although people still could take the elevator, or go around the gates on foot, city officials said.

The city is spending about $10,770 for the gates, the least expensive option to thwart the trespassers, in hopes that they will get the message and stop the activity on the garage roof. The gates are being fabricated by Ace Welding and should be installed soon, redevelopment director Heather Pope said.

While Behmke described a serene scene of individuals enjoying the night sky on the garage roof, commission member John Dorenbusch said the city sees something else.

“From the cleanup activity going on on Mondays, there’s more than looking at the moon going on up there,” he said.

Commission members are considering better security cameras on the garage and possibly having a security guard monitor the rooftop between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. on weekends, in addition to the gates.

The cost estimate to install fending around the perimeter of the garage roof is about $50,000, said Gary Thompson of REI, the company that manages the garages for the city, in an earlier meeting.

The city said several juveniles have been found on the roof by Columbus police, but officials at The Cole have declined to press charges, releasing them to their parents instead.

What's next

Columbus will place gates in its two downtown parking garages at Second Street and Jackson Street to block off ramps to the roofs after-hours. The effort is an attempt to thwart trespassers who are going to the roof of the Second Street garage to access The Cole apartments, which is located next door.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.