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Parking lot could soon be home to downtown Santa Fe restrooms

December 3, 2018

Finding a restroom near the Santa Fe Plaza is a real crapshoot.

And plans to install a public facility in the busiest part of downtown come and go — and more often go.

There once was the idea the New Mexico History Museum would open its doors to bladder-pinched tourists. More recently a proposal was floated for the “Santa Fe Loo,” a single-stall contraption on Sheridan Avenue. Nothing has come to fruition.

Rinse. Flush. Repeat.

All the while, tourists remain in the lurch, and downtown merchants are put upon by non-customer visitors in an emergency.

Could the latest pitch for a Plaza-adjacent public restroom finally be the one?

A plan for restrooms with roughly 40 toilets at the city’s Water Street surface parking lot — one block from the Plaza — is in the design phase. The restroom would be installed adjacent to Cerletti Park, the rock formation at the corner of East Water Street and Don Gaspar Avenue.

“Ideally it would be on the corner of the Plaza,” said Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe. “But this is as close as I think we can get.”

Randall said the proposal could appear before the city’s Historic Districts Review Board this month.

One outstanding concern: how to pay for it. City councilors, if the proposal survives the review board, will grapple with that.

Randall estimated the construction cost at some $500,000. “That’s the high-end range,” he added. “I personally feel it could be built for less.”

Contrast that with the single-seat Santa Fe Loo idea, which was estimated to cost $130,000.

The Water Street parking area, a surface lot in the heart of downtown, has been eyed by development enthusiasts in the past. Randall said he feels the restrooms, which could be maintained by a full-time attendant and closed overnight, would not preclude any housing or mixed-use development.

“We’ve waited more than 400 years to build this thing,” he said.

The stalls would leave the 156-space parking lot with three fewer spaces. Noel Correia, director of the city Parking Division, said he believed his team could find a way to squeeze out three new spaces elsewhere in the lot to keep the number at 156.

The 20 toilets on both male and female sides could turn out to be more than necessary, Randall said. But he acknowledged the city has little idea what is actually needed.

“Even though on Indian Market weekend and a few other times it will still perhaps be inadequate, the hope would be that we don’t end up with lines hanging out,” he said.

The restrooms are only one prospective change at the busy downtown lot. Correia said he plans to automate the lot, where employees currently man the entrance and exit booth. The parking division would install pay stations, and enforcement officers would add the Water Street lot to their rounds.

The booth would remain in place. “What we have been told is it has historical value,” he said.

Correia said the change would eliminate the lines that sometimes build up inside and outside the lot at high-traffic times as drivers deal with the employees in the booth.

“When you have a manned situation, and people have to get a ticket to get in, and then they stand in line to pay while exiting, it’s not 21st century business,” he said.

He added no parking division employees would lose their jobs. Booth workers would be retrained as parking “ambassadors,” Correia said, helping visitors with the pay stations while also restocking receipt paper and collecting cash from the machines.

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