FOR THE FIRST time in Philadelphia history, the city has launched a major effort to install dozens of high-tech, self-cleaning, $250,000 public pay toilets in its heaviest pedestrian and tourist areas.
The city would pay nothing for up to 35 fully computerized, handicapped-accessible toilets because the company that builds them would also install hundreds of new bus shelters, newsstands, trash receptacles and kiosks here - and own the advertising rights on all of them for 20 years.
Wall Inc., one of the potential bidders, has installed a fully operational new toilet on the City Hall apron for pedestrians to try.
It costs 25 cents for 20 minutes, after which the occupant is warned to leave before the toilet goes into self-cleaning mode.
This restroom is on loan from Boston, where the "street-furniture" program has been so successful that Wall Inc. has returned $5 million to the city in revenue-sharing over the last five years.
Public Property Commissioner Joan Schlotterbeck, who recently issued the city's "street-furniture" request-for-proposals to bring the new toilets here, said the ultramodern amenities would be a giant step forward for Philadelphia as a first-class tourist destination.
"When a group of us met with Peter O'Sullivan, Boston's street-furniture director," she said, "and I got my first look at that toilet, I said, 'Oh, my gosh! The design! The construction! The look!
"It was worlds apart from what we have here. It was even in colors specific to the Boston historical district. We want to do that here in our historic city.
"I know the SCRUB folks will be concerned," Schlotterbeck said, referring to the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight that has KO'd ad-laden street-furniture proposals in years past.
"But we are trying to avoid [advertising] clutter. I can see this making a big difference all over the city. I'm very excited."
"It seems like a lot of ads for a little bit of toilet," said SCRUB's president, Mary Tracy. "Is it OK for the city to put ads up in the public right-of-way for 20 years so they can get a few free toilets?
"How many people have used that new toilet outside City Hall - One hundred? Two hundred? Is that worth blighting our streets with advertising?"
City Councilman Darrell
Clarke, whose district includes parts of Center City where the new toilets would be installed, called them "pretty amazing" and said he hopes they also will be placed along jogging routes in Fairmount Park.
"I like to consider myself a jogger," Clarke said. "And the reality is that sometimes you have a little situation out there where you're trying to finish your run, but being an old guy like I am, well, you know . . . "
City Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose South Philly/Center City district would be peppered with the new public toilets, said, "We really need them in Head House Square, on Independence Mall and along the Parkway. There just aren't enough facilities to meet the demand."