Postal Service looks to close five large New York City Post Offices


March 19, 2013

Five large post offices in New York may be closed over the coming months.  Most likely, retail services will be relocated to smaller spaces in the neighborhood, and several hundred letter carriers who work out of the back of the buildings will be transferred to other postal facilities.

The closures would have a dramatic impact on their communities, and the Postal Service is coming under pressure from elected officials and historic preservationists to reconsider its plans.

The Postal Service has asked to be put on the agenda at the regular meeting of the Manhattan Borough Board so that it can discuss the situation for several Manhattan post offices.  The meeting is open to the public, and it will be held on Thursday, March 21, at 8:30 a.m., One Centre Street, 19th Floor.

Here’s a status report on where things stand with these five post offices.

 

Bronx General Post Office

The historic post office at 558 Grand Concourse in the Bronx (10451) is heading for closure and sale.  Built in 1936, the post office contains several priceless murals by Ben Shahn, who worked with Diego Rivera on the controversial mural that was removed from Rockefeller Center.  The Postal Service says it plans to relocate retail services to a smaller location in the community (maybe even in the same building) and to sell the historic structure. 

As reported by David Cruz in the Bronx Times, the asking price for the Bronx GPO is $14 million.  It’s about seven blocks from the new Yankee Stadium, so it’s in a prime location for repurposing as a big retail center.

The process has been moving along very quickly.  The Postal Service informed Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz on Dec. 31 of its intentions to sell the post office and relocate postal services.  A 30-day comment period on the proposed relocation then began, either on Jan. 28, when the notice was posted at the post office, or on Feb. 6, the day of the public meeting.  Turnout at the meeting was sparse because people were at work and the notification was poor, so Community Board 4 asked for an evening hearing with the Postal Service, but the request was declined.

The comment period ended on March 5.  The Postal Service sent a letter, dated March 14, to the Bronx Borough President saying that it had made a final decision to relocate retail services.  The letter states simply, "Upon further assessment and review, the Postal Service has made a determination to proceed with the relocation of retail services.  In the near future, we plan to advertise for an existing building in which to relocate the post office.  Plans also include marketing the sale of the property."  (The letter is here.)

The community has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Service.  Requests for an appeal are supposed to be sent to the Vice President of Facilities at the Postal Service, probably the same person who made the final decision.  

The process on the Bronx GPO has gone a lot faster than the Postal Service said it would.  In a news item dated Feb. 1, 2013, the Postal Service said, “A final decision will be made in about three months after the agency meets with local officials and residents of the 10451 zip code area, which this branch serves.”  Instead, it took about six weeks.

In fact, the Postal Service has gone through the process about as quickly as the law allows.  According to CFR 241.4, the federal regulations governing relocation of post office, the Postal Service must wait at least 15 days after the date of the public meeting or receipt of the written comments before making a final decision.  Depending on how one figures things, the Postal Service may not have even waited that long.  It certainly didn't waste any time before coming to a final decision.

The Bronx GPO is on the National Register of Historic Places, so the Postal Service must also comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  The Postal Service maintains that the Section 106 requirements don’t apply to the “relocation” of a post office to elsewhere in the community, so the agency doesn’t have to follow these procedures until it is ready to dispose of the building.  The National Trust and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation take a different view of the question, but the disagreement remains unresolved at this time.

For more about the Bronx post office, follow David Cruz's articles for the Bronx Times, and check out the excellent article by David W. Dunlap in the New York Times.  For more about the threat to historic post offices across the country, see this great piece by Robin Pogrebin, also in a recent issue of the Times.

 

Old Chelsea Station

The Postal Service is also planning to sell the Old Chelsea Station at 217 West 18th Street (10011).  Built in 1935, it was listed on the National Register in 1989, and it contains two New Deal bas relief murals done by Woodstock artist Paul Fiene.

As reported by Liza Bear for The Villager, a letter about the pending relocation was discovered pinned to the post office’s wall by an alert patron, who notified the media.  The Postal Service also sent a letter to the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation notifying them of the pending sale, along with an explanation that the sale will have ‘no adverse affect’ on the building's historic value.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, in whose district the post office is located, was not pleased about the notification process. "We should not learn of an impending sale and closure only through a letter to the state agency on Historic Preservation,” he said in a statement.  

Elected officials first learned of the sale on January 11, and seven of them wrote the Postmaster General on February 6, complaining about the notification process and asking him “to examine all scenarios that would allow it to continue providing services at the site while repurposing the excess space that is no longer needed prior to moving forward with any proposal to sell the property.”  (Their letter is here.)

The Postal Service decided to move forward on the sale and started the clock on a 60-day comment period, beginning February 19.  The same elected officials wrote a second time to the Postmaster General, "expressing their outrage that the public comment period began without any direct communication to the public from USPS regarding its plans and the process for public engagement, either in an official release to the community or at a public meeting.”  

The letter also called on the Postal Service to restart the public comment period, but the Postal Service has not responded to this request, so the comment period is slated to end on April 19. 

Elected officials have also written to the Chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee, asking that the Old Chelsea post office be granted landmark status: “Given the substantial threat to this historically significant building posed by any change in occupancy, we respectfully request that the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) initiate an evaluation of the building and favorably consider it for designation as an Individual Landmark.”  (Their letter is here.)

The Postal Service will hold a public meeting about the Old Chelsea Post Office on April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Fulton Center Auditorium, 119 Ninth Avenue (between 17th and 18th Streets).  There's more about the latest on the Old Chelsea post office here.

 

Tito Puente Station

The Tito Puente post office in East Harlem at 167 E 124th St. (10035) is also known by its previous name, the Triborough Station.  Named after the Latin jazz great, it was built in 1975, so it’s not technically a historic building (which usually means over 50 years old), but it’s certainly a community icon.

According to the Daily News, the community learned about the proposed sale in a Dec. 31 letter from USPS real estate executive Joseph Mulvey to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer that was taped to the post office door.

 

Peter Stuyvesant Station

The Peter Stuyvesant Station at 432 E 14th Street (10009) is located in a building that the Postal Service has been leasing since 1952 and that was constructed for the Postal Service (actually, the old Department of the Post Office) according to its specifications.  It’s old enough to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The lease on the property ended on Feb. 28, 2013.  According to the landlord (Benenson Capital Partners), the Postal Service said that it didn’t need such a large space anymore.  The landlord and Postal Service have negotiated a new one-year lease, presumably to give the Postal Service time to find a smaller space.  The landlord says that he wasn’t looking to get rid of his tenant, and if the deal had been right, the Postal Service could have stayed in the building.

 

Washington Bridge Station

The Washington Bridge post office at 555 W 180th St. (10033) may also be closing.  The Daily News article about the Tito Puente post office mentions that the Washington Bridge post office is also “being considered as a possible candidate for consolidation or sale.”

That’s not quite accurate.  The Postal Service leases this property, so it won’t be going up for sale.  According to the USPS Facilities list, the long-term lease on the Washington Bridge post office ended in June 2012.  The Postal Service apparently negotiated a short-term extension until June 30, 2013, as it did with the Peter Stuyvesant Station.  It also looks like the Postal Service signed a new lease in April 2012, running until 2022, for a space at 516-518 West 181st Street, so perhaps the post office will be moving there.  If that's correct, it means the Postal Service has made arrangements to relocate the post office without informing the community and going through the relocation procedures.

If you know anything more about the status of these or other post offices that may be closed or sold, hit the contact link at the top and send us a note.  If you'd like to contact the Postal Service or elected officials about the proposed sales and closures, here's a contact list.

(A special thanks to Chuck Zlatkin, Legislative and Political Director, New York Metro Area Postal Union, APWU, AFL-CIO, for his help on this post.)

Photo credits: Bronx GPO, Bronx mural of Walt Whitman, Old Chelsea Station, Old Chelsea bas relief, Tito Puente Triborough Station, Peter Stuyvesant Station, Washington Bridge Station.

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