Historic Post Offices
August 1, 2013
When journalists ask the Postal Service which post offices might be sold, they’re typically referred to the USPS-CBRE website, as if it represents a complete list. But there are other post offices for sale, and a few of them are currently listed on the GSA auction site.
Apparently, selling these properties didn’t turn out to be the boon the Postal Service may have once expected. Now that efforts to sell them at anywhere near the asking price have been unsuccessful, the Postal Service has turned them over to the General Services Administration for auction. Instead of the asking price, the Postal Service will take what it can get.
Today there are about a dozen USPS properties being sold by GSA. According to postal official Peter Nowacki, nineteen properties, most of them east of the Mississippi, will be auctioned off through the GSA in the near future.
Three of those currently on the GSA auction block are historic buildings — Yankton, South Dakota; LaFollette, Tennessee; and Charleston, Illinois;.
Yankton, South Dakota
The former Yankton post office at 335 Walnut Street was constructed in 1905, with an addition in the 1950’s. It is one of twenty landmark structures in downtown Yankton, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Postal Service closed the post office in January 2012, and postal operations were consolidated into an annex, two miles from the downtown location of the old post office. The Postal Service never did a discontinuance study on Yankton because it considered the closure a “relocation.”
The new post office in the annex has been a hardship for a lot of customers and an added expense for many small businesses, including Yankton Media, which used to be able to walk next door to the post office and now must send someone on a time-consuming errand.
According to the Invitation for Bids, the building comes with a Historic Preservation Covenant agreed to by the Postal Service and the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Officer. The covenant requires the new owner to get permission from the SHPO before doing any construction, alteration, and remodeling.
That may be putting a damper on the sale. When the building was initially listed on the USPS-CBRE website, the asking price was $395,000 (it’s no longer on the site since the sale is now the GSA’s problem). The starting bid is now $75,000.
Berkeley mayor files appeal with the PRC to stop the closure and sale of his city’s historic post office
July 31, 2013
Tom Bates, the Mayor of Berkeley, California, has written a letter to Ruth Goldway, Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, informing the PRC that he is “personally appealing the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office because this transaction is not a relocation of services, it is in fact a sale of the historic building.”
Mayor Bates notes that the Postal Service is calling the closure and sale of the post office a “relocation” without even identifying the new location. According to the mayor, “there is no suitable location in area code 94704 to which to move retail services.”
As for the Postal Service’s statement that it’s possible they would lease back space in the building and keep a post office there, the mayor writes, “This is playing semantic games with the public trust and contributes to public distrust of government.”
“If the Postal Service has a place to relocate the retail postal service other than 2000 Alston Way (its current location),” says the mayor, “it should be required to make it known prior to moving ahead with a scam relocation.”
The Postal Service will inevitably file a Motion to Dismiss the mayor’s appeal, as it did recently on the appeal of the Bronx GPO closure, on the grounds that relocation decisions are outside the jurisdiction of the Commission. That motion is still before the Commission.
Mayor Bates has been trying everything to stop the sale of his city's historic post office. He wrote directly to the Postmaster General, and got this unsatisfactory reply, basically saying, "Sorry, there's nothing I can do about it." Mayor Bates also wrote to 54 mayors across the country who are facing similar closures of historic post offices. The mayor and the city council also filed an appeal on the relocation decision with USPS Vice President, Facilities, Mr. Tom Samra, and that got nowhere either. Whether the PRC appeal will fare any better remains to be seen.
(Photo credits: Berkeley's Mayor Bates)
July 19, 2013
Yesterday two of the country's most significant historic post offices — the 1916 Berkeley post office and the 1935 Bronx GPO — came a step closer to being sold.
Mr. Tom Samra, USPS Vice President, Facilities, rendered his final decision on the Berkeley post office. The Postal Service will relocate retail services to a yet-to-be-determined location, and the historic building will soon be put up for sale. You can read his decision here.
At almost the same moment, the Postal Service filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission to dismiss the appeal on stopping the relocation of the historic Bronx General Post Office, so it too will soon be on the market. .
Neither the decision on Berkeley nor the motion on the Bronx came as a surprise. The Postal Service will not be swayed from its plans to sell historic post offices. Postal officials have denied appeals on Venice, the Bronx, La Jolla, and other relocations, and postal lawyers have consistently argued that relocation decisions can be appealed only to the USPS VP of Facilities, not to the PRC. Community opposition doesn’t matter, the pleas of elected officials don’t matter, and legal arguments by attorneys and historic preservations don’t matter.
Appeals concerning the Berkeley relocation were filed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Post Office Collaborate, Ford & Huff Attorneys at Law, Save the Berkeley Post Office, the Gray Panthers of the East Bay, and approximately fifty postal customers. The appeals just didn’t matter.
At this point, Mr. Samra’s final decision statements are pretty much boilerplate. He reviews the concerns raised by the appeals, and dismisses each in turn. The impact on the community, he says, will be mitigated by locating a new retail office in a convenient location. Besides, as Mr. Samra reminds us, 40 percent of retail revenue comes from sources other than a post office, which presumably means that many people don’t need a post office to begin with.
Mr. Samra says that allegations that the Postal Service has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and so on, are not relevant because it is premature to consider the requirements spelled out in these laws. The Postal Service has only decided to relocate the post office; it will deal with these other matters when the time comes to sell the building.
The bottom line, says Mr. Samra, is that the Postal Service’s financial condition requires it to take steps like selling the Berkeley post office, and that’s about all there is to it.