19 December, 2011


Around Town, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online,

The U.S. Postal Service plans to sell the historic building that houses Palo Alto's downtown post office and move its operations to a smaller facility as part of a nationwide effort to cut costs.

Palo Alto is one of several Bay Area cities in which the postal service plans to relocate its operations to save money, said James Wigdel, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. The agency has similar plans for post offices in Menlo Park, Half Moon Bay and Sausalito, Wigdel told the Weekly Friday.

The process of relocating the Hamilton Avenue branch's services to another location would take several months, he said, and is expected to be concluded some time next year.

The prominent building, which is owned by the postal service, is a much larger space than the postal service needs, Wigdel said. The agency does not plan to lay off any employees or to reduce services when it changes locations, he said.

"We're not closing any of these post offices, but we are relocating them," Wigdel told the Weekly. "It'll be the same amount of retail when it's all said and done. All the employees, all the P.O. boxes and services will remain the same."

Wigdel said employees of the Hamilton Avenue branch were notified of the changes this week.

The iconic building at 380 Hamilton Ave. was designed by prominent local architect Birge Clark, whose other buildings include the Lucie Stern Community Center and various buildings on the Ramona Street Historic District. Located one block east of City Hall and one block south of University Avenue, the post office stands at a prime downtown location and will likely fetch a hefty sum for the cash-strapped federal agency. 

Earlier this year, a four-story building at 100 Hamilton Ave. was sold for an astounding $64 million, or $900 per square foot.

Charles "Chop" Keenan, a prominent developer whose downtown buildings include the Varsity Theater and Miyake Restaurant, speculated that the historic building would be sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, or roughly $500 per square foot. 

"It's a very historical building and it's really important to the fabric of downtown Palo Alto," Keenan said.

Though the building's listing on the historic inventory might make it more complicated for the buyer to renovate it, Keenan said he doesn't expect the historical status to deter potential buyers. 

"Every time I do a historic rehabilitation, I've been successful because people love to occupy historic buildings," Keenan told the Weekly. "They get a little more rent out of it."

Keenan said he is interested in the property and expects others to show interest in it as well. He said he expects the site to be used for office space.

Though it's not yet clear where the new post office branch will be located, Wigdel said it would feature all the same services that the Hamilton Avenue facility currently provides. Palo Alto also has a smaller post office at 265 Cambridge Ave., in the California Avenue Business District.

The postal service plans to go through a similar process with the main Menlo Park post office, which is located at 3875 Bohannon Drive. Menlo Park has two other post offices, one at at 655 Oak Grove Ave., and another one at 2120 Avy Ave.

Wigdel said the Postal Service also plans to relocate about 50 Menlo Park carriers to Palo Alto as part of its restructuring effort on the Peninsula.

"We've done that with several locations on the Peninsula," Wigdel said. "It will be a completely transparent process."

The proposed changes are part of a broader budget-cutting effort by the Postal Services, which has been facing multi-billion dollar deficits in recent years. The agency has also identified 3,700 post offices for possible closure, though these offices would remain open at least until May 15 because of a five-month moratorium that the agency and the U.S. Senate agreed to earlier this week.

The agency has not yet decided which of the 3,700 offices it would close. It plans to further evaluate data and review public comments in the coming months before reaching a decision in the first half of 2012, Wigdel said.

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