No more waiting

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, January 15, 2009

By Staff
Washington residents and leaders take pride in their efforts — successful ones, at that — to bring visitors and area residents to its downtown and waterfront areas for festivals, special events or just to “hang out.”
As successful as those efforts are, they are being hampered by the lack of adequate, permanent public restrooms somewhere in the downtown and waterfront areas. The lack of such adequate facilities hurts the city’s efforts to draw people to its waterfront and downtown areas for the Summer Festival, Smoke on the Water, Music in the Streets, the Fourth of July celebration and numerous other events. New public restrooms would come in handy for next month’s 14th-annual East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and North Carolina Decoy Carving Championships, which brings thousands of people to Washington’s downtown and waterfront areas.
The need for new and permanent restrooms to serve those areas has been a subject of discussion, but little action, at City Council meetings during the past six to eight years. During the Fourth of July celebration on the waterfront in July 2007, an older man visiting Washington was not impressed with one facet of the city’s shining jewel, its waterfront.
The visitor, who chose not to identify himself while speaking to a member of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, complained loudly and longly about the “temporary” restrooms next to the dock attendants’ office at the west end of Stewart Parkway being closed that day. The visitor was perturbed with a sign on the facilities that informed people those restrooms were closed for special events. The closure forced his wife, who has trouble walking, to seek a portable toilet, which, more than likely, was not as comfortable as the “temporary” restrooms closed that day would have been for the woman.
That’s not the kind of message the city should be sending to visitors, or even area residents who come downtown and to the waterfront for special events. Closing the “temporary” restrooms during events that draw huge crowds does protect them from damage, which occurs at such events. However, the solution to the problem is not closing the “temporary” restrooms during special events. The solution is making a decision on where to build new public restrooms and building them.
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 chose to not accept the grant. 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.
Washington must find the funding — public dollars, private dollars or a combination of those two — to build facilities that city residents and tourists deserve. Permitting the existing situation to remain unchanged will result in more people leaving the city with bad impressions of their visits here.
When it comes to building public restrooms, the city cannot wait any longer.