USPS “short-sighted” over sale of historic central post offices
The former chairman of the US Postal Regulatory Commission has criticised the US Postal Service for its “failure of vision” over the sale of historical central post offices. Ruth Goldway, who remains a Commissioner after chairing the Presidentially-appointed Commission from 2009 to 2014, was commenting on an attempt by a community in the state of Connecticut to save their central post office.
USPS has been closing post offices and shortening opening hours in recent years as part of its effort to cut costs and respond to the long-term decline in mail volumes.
But Goldway said last week that the Postal Service was being “economically short-sighted” for closing historical central post offices “without fully exploring the potential for dual- or multi-use or cooperative development”.
She said: “This failure of vision is bad business for both the Postal Service and for the American communities it serves.”
Goldway, who was first appointed a postal commissioner by President Bill Clinton back in 1998, was commenting on a decision by the Commission to allow the Postal Service to close the Atlantic Street Station post office in Stamford, Connecticut. Goldway herself had voted against the decision.
In a dissenting opinion on the ruling, she said the Commission was being “unduly myopic” in failing to support communities trying to protect their historic central post offices and the public art and architecture they incorporate.
Instead, she said the Postal Service could have found mixed uses for the building to benefit both itself and local communities.
She said the Commission had chosen to narrowly interpret its authority to review complaints on post office closures in recent years, and added that it meant the public losing access to “part of the fabric of our nation”.
“The Postal Service’s recent record of selling off its historic buildings is blemished by its inability to protect the public’s right of access to great works of civic art and architecture,” Goldway complained. “Post Offices that have been transferred to private ownership are locked. Public artwork that is part of the fabric of our nation has been removed or is now inaccessible to the public.”
The complaint ultimately dismissed by the Commission over the Stamford post office related to the Postal Service’s process for selling off the facility, which was closed in September 2013.
Non-profit organisation the Center for Art and Mindfulness had put in the highest bid for the facility in a 2012 auction, but as negotiations over the sale terms and conditions fell through, the Postal Service sold the facility to the next highest bidder. The Center claimed that USPS offered better sale terms to the eventual buyers, along with other complaints that were dismissed by a federal district court in November last year.
The Commission decided that it did not have jurisdiction to act on the complaint.
In response to the criticism from Commissioner Goldway, USPS spokesperson Sue Brennan told Post&Parcel that the Postal Service “highly values its historical assets” and adhered to all applicable laws in selling historic properties.
USPS has 1,527 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brennan noted that any property considered for sale is evaluated for historical purposes, and if it is determined to be historic, “then the Postal Service follows the requirements of applicable federal law relating to historic preservation”.
She said a “very modest” 21 historic post offices have been sold since 2012.
Brennan stated that reducing the number of Postal Service properties saved on operational costs and brought in funds from sales.
“In order to preserve affordable mail service for the American public, the Postal Service is constantly improving efficiencies by making better use of space, staffing, equipment and transportation to process the nation’s mail. Improving efficiencies and saving money has become increasingly important, given the continued decline in mail volume that enters the postal system,” she explained.
“The Postal Service is working with a commercial real estate firm (CBRE) to sell select properties around the country in order to save money and generate revenue.”