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US Postal Service Wants to Sell Historic Bronx Post Office

By Patrick Wall | February 1, 2013 6:46am

CONCOURSE — The Bronx General Post Office, a gray-brick colossus that has towered over a full block of the Grand Concourse since its New Deal-era construction, may soon be up for sale, the United States Postal Service has announced.

In a letter to the Bronx borough president, a USPS official described the proposed sale of the landmarked building as part a nationwide downsizing meant to stall the mounting losses that have beset the agency in the digital age, culminating in a record $15.9 billion net loss last fiscal year.

“In the face of unsustainable deficits, the Postal Service must seek ways to cut costs and reduce the size of its infrastructure,” Joseph Mulvey, a USPS real estate specialist, wrote in a Dec. 31 letter to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “We believe we have an opportunity in the Bronx to sell the existing Postal Service owned property located at 558 Grand Concourse, and right size our retail operation into smaller leased space.”

Diaz's spokesman, John DeSio, said Thursday the office only recently received the letter and had yet to meet with the agency, but that it opposed the plan.

“Our office feels that the decision to close this historic facility is unacceptable, and we question the United States Postal Service’s methodology in selecting this site for sale,” DeSio said in a statement.

The agency today only occupies about a quarter of the 175,000-square-foot building at East 149th Street, which it uses to house post office boxes, administrative offices and retail services, like stamp sales and package shipping, according to USPS spokeswoman Connie Chirichello.

The location's processing operations have already been shifted to Manhattan and its mail carriers relocated to the Highbridge branch, she added. The remaining services only require about 7,300 square feet.

“We no longer need the amount of space we own at [the Bronx General Post Office] to get the job done,” Chirichello wrote in an email.

The plan to sell the building is still in its initial stages, she added. 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.

The agency has not determined whether it will lease space in the building for its own use if it is sold, or move to a smaller facility in the area, Chirichello said.

But no employees would be lost in any move and retail services and PO boxes will still be available locally, she added.

“We are not taking away service from the community,” she wrote. “We are simply streamlining operations into a smaller space.”

Still, the news has alarmed some residents who worry that mail service may be disrupted by a move.

“What are you going to do with my mail?” said Sharrod Stewart, who has rented a PO box in the building’s elegant lobby for more than 20 years.

Not only would the move inconvenience locals, but it would also orphan a grand public space with a noteworthy past, added Dora Tatum, who lives by the building.

"It's been here a long, long, long time," said Tatum, 70. "I like all this history."

The four-story, block-long edifice was completed in 1937 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Two 13-foot sculptures made in that decade jut from the exterior: “Noah,” the Biblical ark-builder, and “The Letter,” a mother and daughter clasping a piece of mail.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarked the building’s exterior in 1976, noting the way it combines “classical simplicity with the sleekness of modernism.”

Inside, 13 government-commissioned murals by husband-and-wife painters Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn adorn the lobby walls, depicting factory and farm workers.

The lobby and its murals are not protected by an interior landmark designation, an LPC spokeswoman said, which heightened some locals’ concern about the building’s fate.

“I think it’s fine to explore possible reuses,” said William Casari, who works across the street at Hostos Community College. “But does it mean the space has to be gutted?”

The Postal Service, which does not receive government funding for its operations, has relied on cost cutting and downsizing to confront a steady decline in mail volume.

In 2011, it considered closing thousands of retail branches, including 17 in The Bronx, though those plans were later postponed. In May, it announced a new initiative to eventually get rid of about half its mail processing centers.

“The end game here is privatization,” said Charles Twist, a mail carrier at the Morris Heights branch and a member of a labor coalition that opposes the closures. “When you see how much property they’re trying to get rid of, billions of dollars worth, it makes anybody on Wall Street start salivating.”

There are no current plans to close or relocate other Bronx post office locations, according to Chirichello.

A public meeting on the proposed Bronx General Post Office sale is scheduled for Feb. 6 at 10 a.m. in the building lobby.