New public restroom aims to revitalize GR Heartside community COURTESY PHOTO

New public restroom aims to revitalize GR Heartside community

BY Wednesday, May 27, 2020 10:44am

GRAND RAPIDS — A downtown public restroom set to break ground this week in the Grand Rapids Heartside district is meant to benefit all community members, but will also help address longstanding concerns from neighboring businesses. 

Construction is planned to start on the restroom this week, with the installation set for July 14, and opening date for public use starting July 24. The single occupancy restroom, referred to as a Portland Loo, will be located at the southeast corner of Weston Street SW and South Division Avenue.

The Portland Loo project has long been a conversation at the Heartside Business Association to revitalize Division, said Cindy Schneider, who owns nearby San Chez Bistro and sits on the association’s board.

“After 11 p.m. our parking lot turns into a toilet,” Schneider said. “We see more defecating and urination in our alley than anyone ever wants to see. We hope this will minimize that.”

Schneider said they installed door handles with codes to the San Chez Bistro atrium bathrooms because they would find people passed out, using the bathroom to shower, and it got “a little out of hand,” she said.

“It’s just part of being in Heartside, we know where our business is, we’ve been there for 28 years,” Schneider said. “But it’s getting better every day and we’re excited about the Portland Loo project.”

Housing advocates say the project will serve as a pilot that may spur additional public restrooms downtown in the future. 

“This is about dignity — just because you’re housing insecure or homeless doesn’t mean you should have less dignity in where you use the bathroom,” said Adrienne Goodstal, vice president of community engagement and advocacy at Mel Trotter Ministries. 

The new public restroom will also help ensure agencies like Mel Trotter can be better partners to neighboring businesses, Goodstal said. 

“Making sure there is a bathroom for people to use is going to eliminate homeless individuals from using an alley or a park,” Goodstal said.

Melvin Eledge, operations manager for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said the public restroom is intended to be used by everyone, not just those in the homeless community. The current stock of public restrooms is managed by the Grand Rapids Parks Department. 

“The more public infrastructure and public facilities you have, the better you make people’s experiences in those spaces,” Eledge said. “These are key and critical amenities that really create that vibrant, downtown urban space.”

The Portland Loo project is on target to stay within the $121,270 budget the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority approved last year to purchase and install the public restroom, Eledge said. The annual maintenance is estimated from $15,000-$25,000.

Eledge said data was gathered from the Grand Rapids Police Department, Mobile GR and downtown ambassadors to assess the project. The Heartside Restroom Working Group was formed, and a couple community open houses were held on the subject, garnering mostly positive feedback on the project.

“One of the reasons we went with the Portland Loo is because it’s designed with safety in mind,” Eledge said. “It’s a single stall, you can bring your kids, or your bike can all fit inside, but it’s meant to be a single occupancy unit. There is one toilet and the door locks from the inside.”

Eledge said officials are planning to open the public restroom as scheduled despite many public amenities being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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