Just hold it

By ANGELIQUE CARSON  |  June 16, 2010

"No one will disagree with the statement that we need better and more public restrooms," Erskine says. "But what do you do about it in this environment when they are taking things away, like cutting positions?"

Erskine understands budget constraints, but Portland is "trying to be a real destination and part of doing that is having public facilities for visitors that are downtown, centrally."

Steve DiMillo, whose family has owned DiMillo's Floating Restaurant for half a century, agrees, adding that the bathroom conditions at the Fore Street garage are dismal and not to be recommended. He says the need for improved public restrooms is the most commonly discussed topic at meetings for Old Port retailers.

"All the businesses kind of shoulder that traffic," DiMillo says. His staff frequently allows those crossing their legs to use his restrooms, whether they are customers or not.

District 2 City Councilor David Marshall says the need for better and more public restrooms is a yearly discussion among councilors as well. He cites the standard money-shortage excuse as a reason for the lack of progress.

The funding would have to come from the city's annual $10 million bond which funds its Capital Improvement Program each year, the same fund that pays for road repairs and paving. And you've seen the job the winter does on High Street.

This October will be the third straight year that Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District (the non-profit group that promotes downtown businesses), asks the city manager to use some of that money to improve public restrooms.

"The challenge has been, over the last few years, the funds have been very tight," says Marshall, who represents the city council on PDD's board of directors.

Mavodones says these are indeed particularly difficult times. "Whether it's big capital projects or other items of the budget, everyone is dialing back more than they are adding new things."

Which means that small children are having accidents and then temper tantrums throughout out family-friendly city, as they're forced to sit in their own warmth until their parents can schlep them back to the hotel for a costume change.

Even if the third time's a charm and Beitzer succeeds in winning funds for restroom improvements, they would be used not to build new bathrooms but to modernize and winterize those already at the Fore Street garage. allocated not to seeing the creation of additional bathrooms but to modernizing and winterizing Fore Street parking garage's restrooms. City staffers are now working on cost estimates for the project to be presented to the council in August. (It would likely be higher than the $9200 it cost to modernize, but not winterize, the Spring Street garage bathrooms in 2008.)

"How do you get public restrooms up on the priority list?" asks Erskine, who represents retailers on the PDD's board of directors. "We can keep talking about it, but it's never important enough to get any funding."

Erskine says there simply needs to be a greater number of restrooms, in or near more central locations. PDD would like to see a downtown visitor center in the heart of the Old Port with public restrooms, he said. But he's aware that would take three things: money, property, and initiative.

But what if that's the wrong idea? Perhaps electing a councilor with an incontinence problem could be the way to get officials to really stand-up for pee-ers everywhere.

DiMillo says the idea "really needs somebody that is dedicated to the downtown as a friend of Portland, has the time to follow through with the project, (and) has the contacts to get approval through City Hall and to work with property owners to get location."

"The city has to decide it's important," Erskine says. But for now, tourists and shoppers will have to cross their legs and wish for luck.

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