Restroom planned to deter Heartside public urination

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Rock Dandeneau moved his Taste Buds-Kitchen Connects to a storefront on S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids’ Heartside neighborhood last December.

“Taste Buds-Kitchen Connects is a way for us to connect the food and kitchen concepts to the nonprofit community as well as the community down here in Grand Rapids,” Dandeneau said.

On Thursday, signage went up for Taste Buds’ next venture, a breakfast and lunch counter set to open later this month.

“It’s a very dynamic area,” Dandeneau said.

But there’s one issue businesses here are forced to deal with on a regular basis: public urination on the sidewalks and in the doorways of storefronts.

“It really depends on the day. I think weather has a lot to do with it. In the summer months, I think we see more of an increase of the problem,” Dandeneau said.

The area’s homeless population contributes to the problem, but so do patrons of places like Van Andel Arena and other downtown venues, business owners say.

“I think it deters customers,” Dandeneau said, “or people that want to come in for services, to either be food services trained or what have you, which is what we do, to want to come down here.”

Now, a solution is closer to becoming reality. On Wednesday, the city’s Downtown Development Authority, which takes taxes collected from downtown businesses and property owners and reinvests them in the downtown area, approved spending up to $200,000 to install a public restroom.

A one-stall, 10-by-6 “Portland Loo” — a brand popular in other communities — would be placed at the southeast corner of S. Division and Weston Street.

DDA officials say Downtown Ambassadors will keep the bathroom clean and watch out for drug use and other illicit activities. The top and bottom of the restroom are open so a person inside can be seen while not invading their privacy.

The bathrooms are part of a larger strategy to keep positive momentum going in Heartside, including a rebuild of South Division that improved both safety and aesthetics along the roadway, additional economic development incentives and supporting programs like the inebriation center run by Mel Trotter Ministries.

“We’re hoping that Grand Rapids — because we embrace change, we like to be innovative and creative — that possibility of that being successful here may actually happen,” Dandeneau said.

The City Commission still has to sign off on the project.

Officials hope to have the restroom installed by July 2020.

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