It has been pretty obvious for a long time that we have needed public restrooms in the downtown. Not just because of the homeless population, but also for parents of small kids, as there have been many times where we ended up racing around trying to find a business that will let us use their restroom.
However, yesterday as I popped out of the Vanguard downtown office building, I ran into a downtown property owner who has some interesting ideas about what they can do with their property that would help the entire street face on downtown streets. The problem is that it might conflict with plans to put up a public restroom.
The city has an item on the agenda tonight in which they are looking at location and implementation options for public restrooms. It is a longstanding need that has become more urgent with the rising homeless population.
But my brief conversation yesterday got me thinking – maybe we should not attempt to address this issue in isolation.
Think about it, the city council has appointed a task force to plan the future of downtown. They have appointed a multi-member committee to look into the vision for the future of downtown, everything from building heights to infill projects and transportation.
One thing that was clear to me – the area where the property owner was considering is in need of renovation. The city doesn’t have redevelopment money to fund the projects, but if the property owners are willing to do it themselves, it would seem like a win-win for all involved.
It is possible that you place a public restroom on that location without interfering with other plans. But I think my point would be, at this point, why not run the two processes concurrent to each other? Why do the Core Area Specific Plan and then plop a public restroom into one of the locations, only to have to make changes down the line due to changes in the core area plan?
Right now staff is recommending that a public restroom be installed in the G Street Plaza. The exact location would be chosen by city engineers and other key staff.
Staff also notes, “A priority for funds remaining in the CIP [Capital Improvement Projects] is enhancements to the G Street Plaza to create an attractive community space.” But what if the property owner is willing to put money into making that space better?
From our perspective, G Street is the right location for the restroom, however, the planning should be done in concert with larger plans for that property, the street, and the downtown core area itself.
Most of the other locations do not make a lot of sense. First of all you have 3rd and B Streets at the south end of Central Park. The disadvantage is that you already have a de facto public restroom a block north of that, at C and 4th Streets in the park itself.
The E Street parking lot makes some sense, although they were suggesting the southwest corner, and I’m not sure where that would be. It would seem you could locate one in the plaza itself. The advantage there is that you have a lot of pedestrians and it is a more central location.
The Depot Building on H Street, inside the building, seems too remote, as does the 2nd and H Plaza at the east end.
Some suggested that we make the restroom at City Hall the public restrooms. It was somewhat of a flippant suggestion, but you end up pushing people outside of the core area and you already have the restrooms available at the park itself, which are closer to the downtown area during business hours.
The bottom line from my perspective is do not address this problem in isolation from other plans and projects coming down the pike. I know the council wants to fix the problems associated with not having restrooms. But spending $150,000 only to have to make changes in a few years doesn’t seem like the best use of scarce resources.
—David M. Greenwald reporting