Portland residents and visitors will have more downtown restroom options this summer if all goes according to plan with a city proposal to add three new public restrooms.

“We all know it and we’ve heard it from many of you,” said Dena Libner, chief of staff for the Portland city manager, at a public forum Wednesday night. “We know there’s a lack of publicly available restrooms, not just downtown, though our focus with this plan is on the downtown area.”

The city wants to add free-standing single-stall aluminum restrooms near the Central Fire Station at the intersection of Federal and Market streets, Monument Way near the intersection of Free and Cross streets, and near the entrance to the Portland Fish Pier on Commercial Street.

The restrooms, similar to others in place around the city, would be paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds and the city hopes to have them in place by July 1. The goal of Wednesday’s forum, which was held on Zoom and attended by about 30 people, was to gather feedback and answer questions after the City Council allocated $600,000 in ARPA money last fall to add public restrooms, Libner said.

“They said, ‘We need more toilets. Figure out what, how and where,’ ” she said. “So we took that and ran with it. The city manager decided to focus on facilities in the downtown area based primarily on the feedback she heard from so many people in those ARPA hearings as well as feedback we hear regularly.”

City staff will also present the plan to the council’s housing and economic development committee later this month and communicate their final decision to the council June 6.


The proposal was guided by supply chain issues, the lack of funding to build new, permanent facilities, and the need put the bathrooms on undeveloped, city-owned property accessible by a vehicle for cleaning and maintenance. The city also wants to avoid putting them “on the front doorstep” of businesses, Libner said.

The restrooms are expected to resemble others in Deering Oaks at Park and Forest avenues, at the basketball court on the Eastern Promenade and at the Fox Field basketball courts. Those bathrooms are unheated, aluminum structures with translucent roofs and solar-powered lighting. They can be moved with a day’s notice, though the city plans to keep them in place year-round.

“The design details are not groundbreaking, but I think they’re elegant and practical,” Libner said.

The cost is expected to be under $100,000. The city plans to use the rest of the $600,000 for improvements to the Spring Street parking garage restroom and possibly to install additional vault toilets, such as the ones in Payson Park at Baxter Boulevard and at Dougherty Field. Vault toilets are waterless, non-flush toilets that store waste in an airtight underground container.

Resident George Rheault said he is concerned about possible “unsavory behavior” if the restrooms are not closely monitored and said the city should let people know how to report problems and maintenance issues.

“A couple of these locations, I’m thinking of the fish pier most of all, if there is an environment around these facilities where there’s not a lot of natural activity and they’re kind of isolated … they’re more likely to be trouble locations,” Rheault said.


Libner said the city plans to include signs saying who to call if there are problems. “I think that is going to assist us also … in collecting data about where these are successful, and at what time of day challenges are likely to occur, and where we might need to implement changes,” she said.

Erin Kiley said many people are “really excited” about the proposal, but asked if the city will help people find the restrooms, which “seem to be outside … of the direct area of residential and tourist activity.” And she asked why the city plans to spend so much on the Spring Street garage rather than new areas.

“I think that’s a really good point,” Libner said. “We would like to put more spots in the downtown area, in the arts district area. If people have suggestions for locations that can meet our requirements, please do not hesitate to send them our way. I think exploring how we use the remainder of that ARPA funding is still something we’re doing, so I appreciate the point. I hear you.”

John Sterling, who is on the board of Portland Downtown which co-hosted Wednesday’s forum with the city and the Portland Society for Architecture, asked about the timeline and cost of the Spring Street garage restroom renovations and the maintenance plan for the three new bathrooms.

Kathy Alves, the city’s public buildings director, said she hopes the Spring Street improvements will cost $300,000 to $350,000 and said the city is working with a garage neighbor to try to add street access so people would not have to enter the garage to use the restroom. “In my opinion, it’s a pretty good location to be able to hit that arts district … it certainly can serve Congress Square and the improvements that are set to happen there,” she said.

Alves said she expects those renovations to be done in late fall or early winter.

Plans call for the bathroom tanks to be emptied four times per week and the interiors cleaned one to two times per day. Libner said the city will evaluate the schedule to see what works and what doesn’t.

“I think a fundamental question is … can we maintain these so they fulfill the need for the people that need them with the staffing shortages and budget constraints that we have?” Libner said. “Can we put these out there and do they work? I think we’re willing to adjust their individual locations but we need to see whether we can keep up with the maintenance and whether they cause any issues for businesses or individuals around them before we think about adapting or expanding this pilot.”

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