Published 11:37 am Saturday, July 7, 2007

By Staff
As much time, effort and money that Washington spends on promoting itself as a destination for tourists, those efforts may be going for naught when it comes to getting some of those tourists to return for other visits.
During the Fourth of July celebration on the city’s waterfront this week, an older man visiting the city wasn’t impressed with one facet of the city’s best jewel — its waterfront.
The man, who did not identify himself while speaking to a representative of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, complained bitterly about the “temporary” restrooms adjacent to the dock attendants’ office being closed that day. The man said a sign on that facility announced it was closed for special events.
That closure forced the man’s wife, who has trouble walking, to seek a portable toilet. There’s no doubt that portable toilet was as comfortable as the “temporary” restrooms would have been for the woman.
The man made it very clear that the closure of the restrooms left him with a bad impression of Washington. He could not understand why they were closed on a day when they were needed.
Why were those restrooms closed when the waterfront was crowded with people, residents and visitors alike?
The representative of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association made a telephone call to determine why the restrooms were closed. According to that representative, the restrooms were closed because city officials were afraid that the large number of people who came to the Fourth of July celebration along the waterfront would damage the restrooms.
If that’s the case, then that’s a good argument for the city to replace those “temporary” restrooms with a permanent facility that provides restrooms for the public to use. Although the “temporary” restrooms are there to mainly serve boaters who pay to use the city’s docks, most visitors to the city — and probably most city residents — don’t realize that. All they see are restrooms they can’t use.
Considering how often the waterfront is used, especially during special events such as the Summer Festival, Smoke on the Water and the Fourth of July, it’s way past time for the city to build permanent restroom facilities somewhere on or near the waterfront.
Of course, there will be times when those permanent facilities will need to be paired with portable toilets for major events on the waterfront. But permanent restrooms for everyday use are no longer a luxury for the city to provide; they are a necessity.
The city has had opportunities to build a permanent building that would house restrooms, showers and laundry equipment to serve transient boaters and others who visit the city’s waterfront. In August 2004, the city decided to seek $100,000 from the Division of Coastal Management for permanent bathroom facilities to be constructed at the west end of the parkway. The city would have been required to put up $32,000 for the project, if the city were awarded the grant.
Subsequently, the city decided to not take the money. It wanted to wait until a downtown revitalization plan was completed to see how that plan would affect the city’s desire to build permanent restrooms to serve the waterfront.
The city can’t afford to wait any longer when it comes to building those permanent restrooms.
The city must find the money — public dollars, private dollars or a combination of those two — to build facilities that city residents and tourists deserve. Allowing the existing situation to remain unchanged will result in more people leaving the city with bad impressions of their visits here.
The city can’t afford to let its efforts to improve tourism go down the toilet.