Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado wants downtown business owners to know that, for him, fecal matters.
And so, amid calls to bring souped-up porta-potties to the area to rid the streets of human waste, Regalado says he’s willing to use some extra office cash to pay for a roughly $500,000, six-month test run.
“I really feel that I owe it to downtown Miami,” said Regalado. “It’s an economic engine of the city.”
Downtown business owners and the city’s tax-funded Downtown Development Authority have been calling for additional public restrooms for about a month, going back to when local businessman Jose Goyanes noted news reports about San Francisco using a portable “Pit Stop” program to reduce instances of public urination and defecation.
The issue became a mini public-relations fiasco for downtown after the DDA demanded that the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust pay for the toilets. After being rebuffed by Ron Book, the chairman of the tax-funded Trust, Goyanes made a YouTube compilation of human waste and then produced a map showing all the locations where feces and urine were discovered one morning around downtown.
The poop-map dispute — picked up by national media — exposed tensions between the DDA and the Homeless Trust over how to address homeless issues. But it did nothing to deal with sanitation problems that business owners such as Hans Seitz, who co-owns Sparky's Roadside Barbecue on Southeast First Street across from a Metromover station, complain about.
“The space underneath the Metromover, which is directly across the street from us, is basically a public bathroom for the homeless,” Seitz said. “It’s about time somebody did something.”
Alyce Robertson, executive director of the DDA, was unavailable Thursday afternoon to discuss details of how the DDA would implement the program, or whether they’d accept Regalado’s money. Robertson instead issued a statement.
“The Pit Stop portable toilet program has seen incredible success in San Francisco and can be replicated here,” she said. “While long-term housing is the ultimate goal [to curb homelessness] programs like Pit Stop can provide humane conditions and dignity for our homeless who would otherwise have nowhere else to go but on our city streets.”
DDA Spokeswoman Alisha Marks Tischler said the DDA would need to seek competitive bids for a vendor should they choose to purchase portable toilets. But, based on a quote the agency received weeks ago from a potential vendor, the DDA could fund two toilets day and night, seven days a week with the money Regalado is offering.
While two toilets might not seem notable, maps distributed by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless amid last month’s homeless flap show that there are only seven public restrooms in the entire downtown area east of Interstate 95, south of I-395 and north of the Miami River. Meanwhile, there are roughly 400 homeless men and women on the streets of downtown on any given day.
Regalado has the money to spend thanks to a multimillion-dollar general-fund surplus. Last month, commissioners agreed to have the city give each elected official $1.5 million to spend on capital projects. The mayor says he’ll present his offer to the DDA’s board early Friday.