GR budget includes funds for Heartside bathrooms

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The proposed Grand Rapids city budget includes money that could help freshen up one downtown neighborhood.

For years, a major complaint in the Heartside district on the south end of downtown has been the lack of public restrooms. Businesses say the people who frequent the neighborhood end up urinating in public. The homeless population is part of the problem, but so are Arena District customers, especially after the bars close.

Kim Davidson sees it every day from behind the counter at Mos Eisley’s Tattoo Studio at S. Division Avenue and Oakes Street.

“During the day. All the time. All hours,” she said.

Even if you can’t see it, you know it’s there.

“I actually just thought that as I was walking up from the alley today. I was like, ‘Wow, it smells really bad today.’ Yeah. You have to watch where you’re walking,” Davidson said.

Along with the obvious public health issue, it’s not good for business.

“We have a wide open window. So to have people look outside and see that, it kind of could come off, you know, not very good,” Davidson said.

But there may be relief in sight. Working with the Heartside Business Association, the city has been looking at options from port-a-potties to the larger trailers used at outdoor events to building bathrooms in local parking structures.

Another idea is Project Friendly Loo, a program to reimburse cleaning and other costs to local businesses that open up their bathroom to the public.

Suzanne Schulz, the managing director of Design, Development and Community Engagement for the city, says Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. has already pledges $150,000 to an eventual pilot project. The city will likely contribute more.

>>Online: Proposed city budget

But there’s concern about unintended consequences.        

“Drug use and overdoses and things like that,” Davidson explained.

Schulz says the city and others are well aware of the concerns when it comes to making sure the facilities are safe and secure, but also private. One innovation the city is looking at is special lighting in the bathrooms that wouldn’t allow a drug user to see veins, making it difficult to inject themselves.

Alysha Lach White, founder and CEO of Little Space Studio and a member of the Heartside Business Association, is convinced those obstacles can be overcome.

“I think there are also larger cities that have addressed this or there’s innovative ways that they have designed around those human-centered issues,” White said.

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