Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Instead of a ceremonial ribbon, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) cut a strip of toilet paper to officially open the first 24-hour, standalone public restroom Thursday morning in downtown San Antonio.
The 18-foot-long stainless steel abode is located on South Alamo Street between Commerce and Market – one of downtown’s busiest intersections.
City officials encouraged San Antonians to submit name suggestions for the new loo that are “uniquely San Antonio” to the CCDO Facebook page.
“Be creative,” Treviño said. “But please, keep it clean.”
The $97,700 public restroom was unanimously approved by City Council in March. With installation, engineering, contractor wages, utility work, and crane rentals, said Center City Development & Operations Department (CCDO) Interim Director John Jacks, the total cost to the City was about $186,000.
“The addition of this restroom will help us solve our No. 1 and No. 2 biggest problems downtown, and I’m not talking about parking,” Treviño said, showering his remarks in puns and plays on words. In all seriousness, however, the Portland Loo is meant to reduce public urination – for visitors and locals alike he said.
The restroom is ADA-compliant and will be serviced and cleaned by City staff three times per day or more as needed. SAPD Bike Patrol officers, Centro San Antonio ambassadors, and City staff will also be stopping by at least three times a day to ensure the restroom is used properly. The 24-hour phone number posted inside the facility directs users to a parking supervisor for maintenance emergencies.
The loo is designed to deter crime and inappropriate behavior like drug use and prostitution, which have been problems for other major cities with similar public restroom initiatives. Inside, users will find a toilet, toilet paper, and hand a sanitizing station, but no mirror. The sink is located on the outside to discourage people from bathing or washing clothes inside.
Horizontal louvered panels at the base of the structure allow police officers to see the occupant’s feet and check for illegal activity or someone sleeping inside without undermining users’ privacy. The restroom’s graffiti-resistant walls are replaceable incase of vandalism or other damage.
Treviño, who led the effort to fund the restroom earlier this year, said the purchase is justified because the alternative is spending far more on clean-up and more elaborate facilities downtown.
“We spend $250,000 annually just to clean (Commerce and Market streets) and a large portion of that pressure washing is addressing the urine and feces that are found every year,” he said. “That’s money that could go somewhere else to improve downtown instead of clean-up.”
The new restroom is not automated or self-cleaning like those seen in other major cities, which are more costly and sometimes problematic, Treviño emphasized.
“The only thing automated in here is the flush,” he said.
Treviño would like to see three more downtown Portland Loo’s by the end of the year, perhaps one closer to a park. But before those plans hit the City Council floor, he’ll wait to see if this pilot toilet is successful.
City officials will measure the “success” of the loo in several ways including using a sensor inside the facility to count the number of users, recording staff feedback on how easy it is to clean and maintain it, how many police calls it’s associated with, community survey results, and supply needs.
Once that data has been compiled, Treviño said he will be better equipped to speak on the future of standalone public restrooms in downtown San Antonio.
“We also encourage the public to be our eyes, ears, and yes, noses, and let us know if it needs attention,” he said.
A map of nearby public restrooms and diaper changing stations will soon hang from the stainless steel structure. Jacks said the City is looking into ways to incorporate public art.
Top image: Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) exits the restroom after it’s first official use. Photo by Scott Ball.