by: Chris Legeros Updated:
Seattle's last attempt to install public toilets was a disaster. The city spent $5 million on five high-tech toilets that had to be shut down after they became magnets for drug use and prostitution. Now City Council members are considering an offer from a developer that would put a public toilet in Pioneer Square without shelling out any cash.
Urban Visions wants permission to build an apartment building next to Occidental Park that's 10 feet higher than current zoning allows. In return, it will purchase a $100,000 toilet made in Portland called the "Loo" and install it for the city. A neighborhood group, the Alliance for Pioneer Square, will then maintain the toilet. "Our proposal would not cost the taxpayers anything," said Gary Johnson from Seattle's Department of Planning and Development.
The Alliance for Pioneer Square said a public toilet is badly needed. "If the majority of the people in your neighborhood are poor to the point of not having even pocket change, they cannot go into Starbucks and buy a cup of coffee to use the restroom," said Executive Director Leslie Smith. As a result, many relieve themselves in alleys.
The preferred location for the toilet would be the corner of James and Yesler streets, across the street from Seattle's oldest restaurant, the Merchant Cafe. The chef, Sean Hudson doesn't like the idea of a public toilet because he thinks it will attract drug users and prostitutes. He is also worried about aggressive panhandlers bothering customers.
City planners said the Portland Loo is designed to discourage crime. It has narrow openings in the walls that allow people outside to see whether there's more than one person inside. The city also thinks it can deter crime just by placing the toilet in a highly visible location where more eyes will be watching it.