Apr 11, 2023 - Business

Downtown Minneapolis' public restrooms decline

Illustration of an index finger emoji wagging back and forth.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The chorus pushing for more public restrooms in downtown Minneapolis has a new lead singer: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

Catch up quick: While in town for Saturday's concert at U.S. Bank Stadium, the rockstar tweeted the story of his urgent search to find a bathroom after shopping at the downtown Target.

  • The journey involved pleading with Target employees, angering a fan after refusing a selfie and a nearby cafe employee threatening to call security.
  • Finally, Flea made it "by the skin of [his] teeth" to another (unnamed) restaurant's restroom a few blocks away.

Why it matters: Flea's story highlights a problem downtown Minneapolis and other city centers are trying to solve: Visitors, residents and unsheltered people need more places to relieve themselves.

State of play: Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District used to keep a running list of bathrooms as part of the 100 Restrooms Project, which cataloged and encouraged more public bathrooms downtown.

  • But the project is no longer "actively managed" because of pandemic impacts, a spokesperson said. DID estimates there are around two dozen in the area now, down from 29 in 2019.
  • Back then, many were in government buildings and only open during business hours. Others were hard to find and required an employee to access, according to the 2019 report.

What they’re saying: Council Member Michael Rainville, who represents part of downtown, told Axios that while he believes some public restrooms did close because of COVID or crime in recent years, he hasn't heard complaints from constituents on the matter.

  • When asked whether he thought there were enough public lavatories downtown, Rainville said he's "definitely the wrong guy to ask" because he knows "every bathroom in town" from his decades working in the neighborhood.

Yes, but: He acknowledged that finding a place to go can come down to knowing where to look.

  • "You’ve got to know where to find them," he said.

The other side: Some business owners have cited safety concerns about opening their restrooms to the public, including people who aren't customers camping out.

Zoom out: Public bathroom access is an issue nationwide. One 2021 report estimates that there are just eight public toilets per 100,000 people, the New York Times reports.

  • However, some cities across the U.S. are experimenting with new ways to provide access.
  • Phoenix is piloting a new single-stall bathroom with anti-graffiti coating, a see-through top and bottom to discourage illegal activity and blue lights to prevent drug users from locating veins.

What we're watching: If Flea reveals what restaurant allowed him to use its bathroom.


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