Seattle looks to Portland for a public potty

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

SEATTLE - Seattle's Mayor Mike McGinn is pitching a proposal for a new public restroom in Pioneer Square.

He's hoping to minimize problems like drug use and prostitution that the city has experienced with public toilets in the past. McGinn believes the best option is the Portland Loo.

Portland has seven of the stainless steel restrooms scattered around the city. They are free for anyone to use 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Users like Nate Johnson say they are convenient because most businesses won't let you use their restroom unless you buy something.

Seattle's last attempt to install public restrooms failed miserably. Five automated, self-cleaning units were purchased at a cost of a $1 million each in 2004. By 2008, there was so much criminal activity taking place in them, that the city decided to get rid of them. They were all sold on eBay for a little more than $12,000.

The Portland Loo was designed to minimize crime. There are louvers near the bottom that allow police and people passing by to see whether more than one person is inside. The city's Scott Turpen says the more open design, and the placement of loos in very exposed areas discourages illegal activity.

The Portland Loo costs about $90,000, but Seattle's mayor says taxpayers wouldn't have to pay a dime.

A developer is willing to buy a  loo for Seattle and install it, in exchange for permission to put up a building nearby which will climb above the city's current height limit. The city would then lease the restroom to a neighborhood group, the Alliance for Pioneer Square. The alliance would pay for the maintenance of the toilet, including cleaning it twice a day.

The mayor is hoping the loo can be installed in Pioneer Square in late summer or early fall. If the pilot program is successful, you could see more of the restrooms installed in other Seattle neighborhoods.