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Monday, August 18, 2008

$5 Million Self-Cleaning Toilets Sold for $12,549 Online

A man waits for his turn to use an automated public toilet, near Seattle's famous Pike Place Market. The five high-tech self-cleaning toilets cost Seattle $5 million but sold online for just $12,549.

SEATTLE (AP) — City officials have finally gotten rid of five high-tech self-cleaning toilets that cost Seattle $5 million — but sold online for just $12,549.

The city installed the modernistic stand-alone toilets four years ago, hoping they would provide tourists and the homeless a place to do their business while downtown. But the automated loos became better known for drug use and prostitution than for relief.

Neighbors and analysts said they were less cost-effective than regular public restrooms, and in May, the City Council voted to sell them on eBay. After a failed first attempt, when a $89,000 minimum failed to attract a single bid, the city revised its strategy in hopes of sparking a bidding free-for-all.

But despite more than 9,000 combined page views, only 148 bids were cast.

One of the five toilets, which currently graces the downtown waterfront, sold for $4,899, but the average sale was just over $2,510.

A Rochester, Wash., business, Racecar Supply, won all five auctions, which ended Thursday. Butch Behn, the owner, said he plans to use two of the units at the South Sound Speedway and sell the other three.

"It'd probably be good to have a couple around for spares," he said. "We get pretty busy at the track sometimes."

Pat Miller, the city's surplus manager, said the city will recover just over $2,080 per toilet after Bidadoo, the company that listed and sold the units online, takes its 17% cut.

The money will go into the city's utility fund.

"The bottom line is that you're getting rid of the stuff," Miller said.

Finding a home for self-cleaning potties that had lived a hard city life was difficult, Miller said, but he's faced bigger hurdles.

"Most cities are strange in the sense that periodically, we have very unique things to get rid of," he said. "Luckily, the Internet is making it easier for us to find these things a home."

Eight years ago, he was scratching his head over the city's 66-foot topiary dinosaurs, which stood guard outside the Seattle Center.

"We didn't know what to do. They weighed about 5 tons; they were just huge," he said. "There were rumors for a while that Michael Jackson had expressed interest in them, in bringing them down to Neverland."

The dinos ultimately found a home with a Seattle neighborhood foundation.

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