Denver Government

Public Bathroom on 16th Street Mall Has Been Closed for Months

The 16th Street Mall public restroom has been closed since November.
The 16th Street Mall public restroom has been closed since November. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
In June 2021, when the City of Denver opened a new public bathroom on the 16th Street Mall, Mayor Michael Hancock hyped the development.

"Providing residents and visitors access to a comfortable, clean restroom meets a basic and universal human need, and we’re proud to deliver this facility to the people of Denver,” Hancock said. “By making restroom facilities more accessible to all, we increase people’s ability to get out and enjoy our downtown area with confidence, and improve quality of life and the way our city looks and functions.”

The bathroom was placed at 16th and Champa streets, a spot on the mall heavily trafficked not just by tourists and downtown workers, but by people experiencing homelessness. Public restrooms were definitely in high demand in the area.

But by late November, the bathroom had been closed.

"The restroom at 16th and Champa has not been open for the last several months because the contractor we had on board to staff the restroom has been unable to hire an attendant," says Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. "One of the things we learned from our pilot program is that having an attendant on site to monitor and clean the restroom is key, and so we are exploring other options, including having a different vendor handle and oversee the attendant duties."

That pilot program got its start back in 2016, when the city began studying where to put a public bathroom and how to run it. Officials settled on a prefab setup that featured touchless handwashing and a self-cleaning and disinfecting system, then paid for it using $350,000 of federal coronavirus relief funding.

The bathroom, which is eighteen feet long, sits on the site of what was previously a parking lane. It has two individual restrooms, one of which is ADA-accessible, with a sign instructing those using the facility to limit their time in the bathrooms to ten minutes. There's also space for an attendant and security cameras outside.

The city tapped into DOTI Water Enterprise funds to cover operating costs. DOTI contracted with the Liberty Group, a property management company, for an attendant at the 16th Street Mall bathroom.

But in November, the city "lost" its attendant, and Liberty has been "unable to hire a replacement," according to Kuhn. Westword has reached out to Liberty Group for a request for comment.

There's one other public restroom by the 16th Street Mall; it opened in 2007, when Skyline Park was renovated. But that restroom is closed because of a Denver Parks and Recreation maintenance project.

"The closure of the park and restrooms occurred at the same time. We closed block one and three of Skyline Park in early July for restoration of the park, to include power-washing, irrigation repair and upgrades, aeration, seed, fertilization, etc. We hope to have the area open soon," says Cyndi Karvaski, a spokesperson for Denver Parks and Recreation.

But in the meantime, that bathroom is closed, and the temporary bathroom parked three blocks away is also unavailable because of the lack of an attendant.

"We spent the people's money to put in a public restroom because the people said they wanted a public restroom. Let's make sure it's open," says Councilman Chris Hinds, who serves as the representative for District 10, which will include the 16th Street Mall after redistricting is finalized following the 2023 municipal election next April. Hinds had been unaware the temporary bathroom was closed until Westword reached out for comment.

"I don't know why DDP doesn't just take over management of that restroom," adds Hinds, referring to the Downtown Denver Partnership.

And as it turns out, that could happen in the near future.

"The public bathroom should be operational as soon as possible," says Andrew Iltis, vice president of planning and community impact at the Downtown Denver Partnership. "We are having conversations with the Downtown Business Improvement District and the City about managing that facility."

As long as someone's ready to serve as bathroom attendant.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.