Prospect for public toilet in Pioneer Square now in the hands of developer
The Seattle City Council has approved a plan that could bring a permanent public toilet to Pioneer Square.
The city council passed an ordinance Sept. 30 that allows developer Urban Visions to build a 130-foot residential tower at 200 S. Occidental in exchange for installing a Portland Loo in the neighborhood. The site is zoned for 100-foot office buildings, but the city allows developers to build taller residential towers in exchange for public benefits.
Urban Visions first applied to redevelop the site at 200 S. Occidental in 2007, before the housing market crashed. Then, the developer had agreed to reserve space in the building for a trolley barn. Now that the city’s trolleys are no more, the Alliance for Pioneer Square has asked Urban Visions to purchase and install a Portland Loo, a metal, outdoor facility produced by the city of Portland.
The Alliance has agreed to hire staff to maintain the restroom, at an estimated cost of $18,000 a year.
It is unclear, however, that Urban Visions will install the Portland Loo, a bullet-shaped, metal structure with a simple toilet on the inside and a sink on the outside. The developer sent a letter to the Seattle City Council before the vote saying that the economy has changed and a residential apartment building might not pencil out. Urban Visions did not return calls for comment.
The letter came as the council was debating whether to demand more of the developer for the additional height. Councilmembers Nick Licata and Sally Clark said the $230,000 toilet was not enough for the additional 30 feet of height and proposed an amendment requiring Urban Visions also to pay to maintain the toilet for 50 years.
Councilmember Richard Conlin disagreed, and said that Urban Visions could back away from the project if the city demands too much. Urban Visions is legally allowed to build a 100-foot office building at the location without installing a toilet.
He compared Clark and Licata’s proposal to “playing chicken” with developers.
The other councilmembers agreed with Conlin and voted down the amendment.
“I want the Loo,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “It’s like a bird in the hand.”
The Pioneer Square Alliance sees the toilet as an answer to Seattle’s difficult history with public restrooms. In 2004, Seattle purchased five self-cleaning toilets that became havens for drug-use and crime; the city sold the toilets at a significant loss.
Designers of the Portland Loo based it on everything that went wrong with Seattle’s supposedly self-cleaning toilets. The metal is graffiti-resistant, and there are slats pointed down so people outside can see feet but nothing else. It is otherwise enclosed for privacy.
The city of Portland installed seven of the toilets, most in a neighborhood similar to Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
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