Pimp My Privy!

Why Steve Ballmer and the city should sink their millions into public toilets, not the Supes.

As Rick Anderson reported in SW last week, the city is looking to get rid of those fancy public toilets that were placed downtown four years ago. "Not cost-effective" is the word from Seattle Public Utilities. Each of the five futuristic comfort stations costs $360 per day to operate, SPU says—far more than a simple porta-potty. The staff at SPU wasn't especially high on installing the podlike, German-engineered Hering Bau commodes in the first place; the City Council forced it on them. Now, it seems, a new City Council is getting ready to call the whole thing a wash and send the privies back from whence they came. Of course, cost isn't the only concern. The free-to-use rest rooms also have a bad rap as centers for dealing, using, and trick-turning. That's kind of what happens when you set them down in places like Victor Steinbrueck and Occidental parks—i.e., the local centers for crime, drugs, and prostitution. The bathrooms are provided, in part, to serve exactly this demographic, the people without immediate access to nicer facilities, so it's inevitable the little outhouses will be fully integrated into the lifestyle of the locals, for good and for ill. What's ironic is that just as the Nickels administration is proposing to remove these Euro-cans as a costly public blight, the mayor has stepped up to declare his great enthusiasm for spending $150 million of public money on renovating KeyArena. Shoveling more tax receipts down the ever-widening sinkhole of NBA player salaries is apparently quite cost-effective. Well, it is in this case, we're told, because Steve Ballmer and his other civic-minded friends have offered to put up $150 million of their own money as well. So it's kind of like a sale at Barney's. I mean, how can you afford not to spend $150 on that cashmere hoodie? It's half-price! Think how much you're going to save! Of course, it took just 12 years for the previous renovation of the Key to be found wanting. And that cycle of obsolescence is only going to accelerate. But let's be optimistic and assume it'll be another 12 years before the new iteration of skyboxes is deemed inadequate to the Sonics' revenue-generating needs. That works out to a public investment of $12.5 million a year, or about 20 times the annual cost of the bathrooms (including their leasing and upkeep). And as far as the safety of the citizenry goes—are the crime stats on public-bathroom users really that much worse than those of professional athletes (and drunken postgame fans)? Unlikely. That's why I think we should transfer all our cosmopolitan insecurities and aspirations away from professional basketball and project them onto the privies. Let's redefine "luxury seating." Let's pimp out our Hering Baus with all the comforts and state-of-the-art amenities that would otherwise be restricted at the Key to a fortunate few. These could be world-class, signature facilities, like the downtown library and EMP. Let's sell naming rights and have them themed to their surrounding neighborhoods. Wi-Fi-equipped? Of course. Think about the economic multiplier effects—tourists and others will emerge from our gleaming rest rooms relieved, refreshed, and eager to shop more. Unlike basketball, bathrooms are neither seasonal nor subject to a fickle fan base; there's no risk of Seattle just not being a bathroom town. We could make a sport of it, spawn rivalries and competing allegiances, with rotisserie leagues and office pools betting on usage statistics. These suites should be professionally attended, like the elegant public washrooms in New York's Bryant Park. First Thursday could feature local celebrity artists like Dale Chihuly handing you a warm towel. The face of David Stern could be imprinted on the urinals and you'd get a free Scratch ticket for fully erasing him. Squatch, who'll have more time on his hands (paws?), could make surprise appearances. Spa services could be offered for the ladies. There could be special themed promotions and digital jukeboxes inside featuring the sounds of Seattle's vibrant music scene. Make it a community celebration of something we all share. These rest rooms could be more unique, more distinctly Seattle, and more valuable than the Sonics will ever be. It's "go" time! mfefer@seattleweekly.com

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