$100,000 ‘Portland Loo’ Coming to Downtown San Antonio

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Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The "Portland Loo" by Madden Fabrication.

City Council unanimously approved a contract with a Portland-based fabrication company to purchase a stainless steel public restroom on Thursday in an effort to combat public urination and relieve pressure off of downtown businesses.

The $97,700, stainless steel structure is “extremely durable” and easy to maintain, said John Jacks, interim director of the Center City Development and Operations Department.

“It’s a unique solution to a universal problem,” Jacks said, unlike any other public restroom in town, this one will be open 24 hours a day in a highly-trafficked downtown location yet to be determined.

If the “Portland Loo” works out, the City might look into purchasing more, he said. The manufacturer Madden Fabrication gives a 30% discount per unit.

The structures have been installed in 20 locations across the U.S., mostly in Oregon.

Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) noted that some, including talk radio hosts, have balked at the price of the loo.

The long term maintenance cost of a more traditional facility would be much higher, Jacks said, with the Portland Loo, the City is essentially paying maintenance cost up front. The 9×18-foot structure is designed to be easy to clean and hard to break.

“All of the wall panels are replaceable,” and graffiti resistant he said. “If one was damaged, the panels could be replaced.”Inside, guests will find the basics: a toilet and a motion sensor LED light. No mirror.

“(This) discourages someone from hanging out in it, which is a problem with most restrooms,” Jacks said. It is possible for law enforcement to see inside to check if anyone is sleeping or conducting other illegal activities as there are small windows at the very bottom to see an occupant’s feet.

“It still gives enough privacy to a person using it,”Jacks said, like any other bathroom stall.

Outside, the public will find a small hand-washing station and a panel on the door where you can install art or display event/map information.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district covers downtown, traveled with Jacks last year to Portland to examine the loos. Treviño said the bathrooms could be customizable and include a public art component.

The City could spend anywhere between $30,000 to $60,000 for installation once a location is selected. It’s expected to be installed in May.

The CCDO is currently investigating where the best spot is to put it, Jacks said. “It needs to be in a place that has high (pedestrian) traffic” and access to water and sewer utilities.

The bathroom will likely be checked on and cleaned twice daily, Jacks said, depending on where it’s located. Cleaning materials are located in a locked panel on the back, but since it’s stainless steel, it can essentially be hosed down.

The San Antonio Police Department will need to be part of the conversation, Treviño said. Police officers will need to know how it works and how to provide security.

He also defended the cost of the new loo. “This is an industrial grade product. It’s well built. It’s built like a tank,” he said.




*Top image: The “Portland Loo” by Madden Fabrication. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

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39 thoughts on “$100,000 ‘Portland Loo’ Coming to Downtown San Antonio

  1. They will probably located Downtown. Good for tourists/ tourism. Only bought one so far. I think it’s a good solution to a problem of public restrooms, no businesses want people using their restrooms unless they spend money in their business.

  2. An absolute blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars. Next time you hit a pothole, see a pedestrian walking on the roadway with out a sidewalk provided or any of the countless other needs remember their is a $97,000 single stall outhouse downtown awaiting potty seeking tourists.

  3. One question, ok a few questions. This services one person at a time and no matter where it is put no one is going to run across downtown to wait in line to use the restroom. When you have to go you have to go! Just like the million dollar cheese grater in the Henry B why was this not put to a public vote? Another question is will it be contracted out for cleaning to Selrico or will it stay with our city employees? Seeing that Selrico now cleans our libraries, clean and provide catering for pre-k – for SA, Alamodome which I may add they only clean with water (I saw with my own 2 eyes),and La Villita. Or will it be another contractor? Then there is the sanitary issue being cleaned 2 times a day with so many people using it? Then the safety issue of nightly use…. will this become a place for not so lawful transactions? I believe the price on this could be spent on much more essential necessities in our city. There are restrooms all over the downtown area. This is poorly thought out and the public should have a say. Just my opinion….

    • You hit on the nail no the head, why wait in-line when you can just barge-in uninvited and grovel at the feet of the downtown business owners to use his “employees only” facilities, and matter-of-factly make make fungible your convenience to his business operating expense. Simple reasoning, right, just pass the expense over to the “hardly-making-it-schmuck!” The reason many small businesses have for “employee only” use is because its rather freaking expenses to restroom renovate any century-old buildings to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hell, now you kinda-sorta know why good folks, like me, elect business acclimated duffest schmucks like Donald Trump! Just kidding!

  4. How is this for tourists? Tourists pay money to go in hotels, restaurants, shops, etc., and all have facilities available for customers.

    This is 100% a place for bums. Hopefully it’s NOT in a highly visible area since it’s going to have a long line of drunken, crossed-leg hobos staggering around outside waiting for the teenage graffiti artist inside to finish up his spray-can masterpiece.

  5. This is a great example of a pet project from a single council member. There’s a pool of money available for council members to add budget amendments and each member gets at least a little money for a project of their choosing. Trevino wanted an expensive bathroom over other priorities. I guess no other council members thought it was expensive enough to fight him on it.

  6. To be fair, this is not a $100,000 toilet, this is a small building that contains a bathroom. And buildings made of high quality, durable materials, designed to withstand high traffic volumes cost money.

    I’m sure the bathrooms they built at the centro visitor center cost more, but that was a building, so less newsworthy. Looks like a good choice for saving money compared to building a building!

  7. Seattle city government first tried self-cleaning public toilets in 2003. After four years, they were taken out: See http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/do-citys-troubled-public-toilets-gotta-go/

    “The city spent $5 million on five high-tech, self-cleaning toilets for Pioneer Square and other neighborhoods in 2003, only to have the units become refuges for drug use, prostitution and hanky-panky. They were sold on eBay in 2008 for $2,500 each.” http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/after-earlier-embarrassment-seattle-resumes-public-toilet-quest/

    Now, Seattle is trying again with the “Portland loo” (see above link), but with only one installation in Pioneer Square, a downtown historic neighborhood that has a lot of public spaces visited by homeless people as well as tourists. In my opinion, for a public loo to be successful would require having a policeman or other city authority figure standing next to it 24 hours a day.

  8. The only place this thing would make sense is on Frio Street near Commerce, where there is always a very large concentration of homeless people. These loos work best for homeless people, not tourists. Folks visiting from out of town are always welcome to use restrooms in bars and restaurants. Homeless people? Not so welcome…

    • Hey Page – Centro Plaza just one block north of Commerce & Frio (Houston & Frio) already provides a substantial publicly accessible toilet block (but I’m not sure of the operating hours; definitely late night/early morning but hopefully 24-7).

      I’m hopeful at least one of the Loos ends up in Travis Park – also a key VIA transfer point as well as a City food truck program site.

      There’s no permanent toilet (or even hand washing) facilities at Travis Park currently, with port-a-johns sometimes rented for bigger events. Travis Park also seems to attract international visitors throughout the week during the day – including as it’s a key point for catching buses to North Star Mall as well as to the airport, and it’s also close to Greyhound, Omnibus and Megabus.

      Some sort of permanent toilet block at Travis Park makes sense to me for these reasons, but there is likely an overall strategy needed for better promoting and managing San Antonio’s existing public as well as publicly accessible toilets across agencies, departments and properties (including thinking about about publicly accessible private properties that have received public incentives for development).

      Specifically, how could we best improve toilet and handwashing access at key points (bus transfer, food trucks, etc) and key hours in $100k intervals, including with the purchase of Portland Loos (if this is the right technology for the City, depending on how the City defines the public needs to be addressed)?

      For example, there seems to be a toilet block at Maverick Park that appears to have been closed for years (since prior to the City’s 2002 ADA agreement? http://www.ada.gov/sananton.htm#anchor262953) – Parks & Rec?

      See: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.4347534,-98.4802075,3a,34y,164.33h,85.77t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sSr9sRamciqKs3Uw393WgUQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      There’s public toilets in St Mary’s garage fairly close to Travis Park (but not close enough for those eating, attending events or waiting for buses in the park), but it is poorly signed from the street and I’m not sure of the operating hours – Center City & Downtown Operations? Centro?

      See: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.4275622,-98.4914236,3a,66.1y,62.4h,84.65t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sOnl5QNHX3Rs-FXeBVZEEJQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      Likewise, there’s toilets at the VIA office/major downtown stop at Commerce near Soledad – which have recently been opened more hours of the week, but appear to be poorly maintained and aren’t well signed from the street – VIA?

      See: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.4251632,-98.4950176,3a,75y,25.35h,87.42t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s9uYvMf9LqlJWjPo7qpZUEA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      The public toilets at VIA’s Ellis Alley transfer point are immaculate – but they also aren’t signed from the street (the station has poor walkability and visibility from Commerce St due to street/sidewalk design), and the station hours seem to be limited – VIA?

      See: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.42206,-98.4802412,3a,75y,15.42h,76.89t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sQH48hDneN9yG3N3N10XJyw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      Centro Info on Commerce near Alamo Street also has public toilets – but it is not immediately apparent from the street and I’m not sure of the hours – Centro?

      See: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.4238396,-98.4882684,3a,48.1y,227.84h,77.26t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sYlPHFW9-VmbktzduMjqGZA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      This SA Current article maps potential spots for the new Loos (but doesn’t map downtown VIA toilets or potentially closed City toilets at spots like Maverick Park).

      See: http://www.sacurrent.com/sanantonio/will-a-new-downtown-restroom-relieve-problems-or-create-them/Content?oid=2503862

      The ‘heat’ of the public toilet discussion (at least, when it comes to Portland Loos) seems to suggest that City might be ready for a night mayor (considering the emphasis on 24-7 access) or at least a public toilet czar – to help coordinate disparate public toilet efforts across greater downtown and within the framework of other concerns about the quality of the City’s public realm – especially for those getting around on foot and using public spaces and transit at different hours.

      These concerns sound like why a greater downtown Public Improvement District (currently Centro managed) was established in the first place. We’ve bought a Loo, but hopefully now the City can retrofit a public toilet strategy and principles (as part of an implementable overall public realm improvement plan) to make that toilet work.

  9. All these people complaining; you don’t go downtown, do you? A lot of places don’t have restrooms for the public. Would you for people who are having fun and mess up your business?

    Also, it’s not a stall it has a couple toilets in there. Think about this; this will provide for more tourists- they’ll spend more and it goes towards the city. That way more revenue will come in and we’ll get more issues done concerning money. It’s a long term gain.

    • If you have the skills, ability and resources to build an ADA compliant public structure like this for less than $10K, there’s a market for your work all over the country.

  10. Coming into the 21st century one loo at a time. Much better to have several units like this than people forced to relieve themselves on the street. As long as they are clean and safe, I think it’s great.

  11. Simmer-down Amigos and enough already about of the expensive portable outhouse. Whimsical expensive, you say, until yawl can’t find a clean restroom, well lighted and equally supplied with wipes. My business was located at 206 San Pedro with a conveniently placed VIA bus stop across the street; and we consistently had urgent-need visitors asking to use our for “employees only” restroom facilities. So I imagine the expense will similarly be a welcome perk for the users, including the many small businesses scattered about downtown.

  12. I hate to say it, but these nice, little public restrooms will become graffiti infested in no time flat. The graffiti mongers love to use sharp objects to mar the surfaces of stainless steel doors, walls, or whatever, just to make a point. The stainless steel doors in the elevators at the Mission Trails Hospital are already scarred and defaced by idiots.

  13. Thank you Rivard Report!

    Fascinating to read the comments – these are the same conversations that other cities have had for 20 years on the subject of public restrooms.

    SATX needs this kind of facility. I’m pleased to see our city council learning from what has worked elsewhere. Hopefully the first of many permanent, well-maintained structures for this purpose.

  14. San Diego — Crews yanked out of the ground early this week a Portland Loo public restroom that was a magnet for crime and one of the more notorious financial boondoggles in recent San Diego history.

    The loo, which operated for 13 months at 14th and L streets, was moved to the city’s storage yard and city officials say they have no plans to re-install it anywhere, anytime soon.

    In addition to a 130 percent increase in police calls to the area around the restroom, city officials say maintenance and repair costs were more than double initial estimates

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