Historic Plant City post office discontinued, headed for sale

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Earlier this week, the Postal Service announced that the historic post office on Reynolds Street In downtown Plant City, Florida, is being discontinued.  It's the first such discontinuance in over 16 months.

The Plant City post office has been closed since June 2013, when the Postal Service shut down the 1935 facility for an emergency suspension due to deteriorating conditions, including a leaky roof and mold.

The Postal Service then decided it didn't want to spend $1.4 million to repair the building, so it made plans to sell the property.  In October 2013, the Postal Service initiated a discontinuance study to close the post office permanently.  

For some reason it took a long time to complete the study, but this week the Postal Service announced the results — the Plant City post office will be discontinued and closed permanently.

The news report in the Tampa Bay Tribune says that “a postal regulatory commission has until Feb. 27 to file any objections,” but that’s a misunderstanding.  The PRC won’t file any objections itself, but if someone in Plant City files an appeal with the Commission, it’s possible that the Commission would remand the decision back to the Postal Service for further review.

There hasn’t been a post office discontinuance in a long time.  According to its Annual Compliance Report, “The Postal Service closed no Post Offices and no stations or branches in FY 2014” (p. 42). 

According to Postal Bulletin, which announces closures, there's haven't been any discontinuances since FY 2014 ended on Sept. 30, 2014, so it’s been at least 16 months since a post office was discontinued.  

Many post offices have been closed for "relocations," but those aren't considered discontinuances, they don't go through the same review process, and they aren't reported to the PRC for the compliance review.

The review does, however, encompass emergency suspensions.  According to a spreadsheet provided by the Postal Service to the PRC for the compliance review, about 100 post offices, stations, and branches were suspended during FY 2014.  Twenty of them reopened, while 80 remain suspended — along with about 440 post offices that had been suspended in previous years.  (The spreadsheet can be downloaded from the PRC docket here; for easier viewing, we've been a version on Google Fusion, here.)

The reasons for suspending those 100 post offices were the usual causes — damaged building (18 cases); safety and health (34); staffing (10); or an issue with the lease (40).

The spreadsheet says “lessor cancelled lease” or “lease expiration,” but in many of these cases, the Postal Service probably chose not to renew the lease and then put the responsibility on the lessor.  Many lessors have complained about this, and it’s the subject of an ongoing review by the PRC, but the docket, while still open, seems to have been forgotten.  (It's on the new PRC website here.)

While the emergency suspensions go on, the fact that the Postal Service did not discontinue a single post office in FY 2014 is pretty remarkable, especially when you consider that in November 2011 Postmaster General Donahoe told Time Magazine that he planned to close 15,000 post offices — about half the country’s legacy of brick-and-mortar facilities.

During his tenure as PMG (Oct. 25, 2010, to Feb. 1, 2015), Donahoe ended up closing about 750 post offices: 382 in FY 2011; 289 in FY 2012; and 73 in FY 2013.  (The numbers come from PRC compliance reports, here.)

The Postal Service has clearly backed off on post office closures, at least for now.  Instead, over the past two and a half years, 13,000 post offices have lost their postmaster and had their hours reduced under POStPlan.  This week, the last of them — about 1,300 — had their hours cut to 2, 4, or 6 a day.

The Plant City post office was built in 1935.  It’s one of over a thousand post offices built by the New Deal, and like many others, it will soon be listed for sale.  The Postal Service is currently seeking a real estate broker’s opinion of the value of the building. 

The news articles about the closure and sale of the Plant City post office don’t say anything about it, but in order to dispose of a historic property, the Postal Service must go through a consultation process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  The Postal Service is supposed to consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer and other entities, sometimes including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).

This consultation is supposed to begin “early” in the planning process so that it plays a meaningful role in determining the outcome, but the Postal Service claims that an undertaking as defined by Section 106 doesn’t begin until the sale is happening.  The ACHP has challenged that interpretation, and it’s one of the issues in a lawsuit filed against the Postal Service by the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation over the sale of the Berkeley post office.

It’s possible that the Postal Service has already begun the Section 106 process for Plant City.  In any case, the end result is a fait accompli.  Nothing will come out of the consultations to prevent the Plant City post office from being sold.  

It doesn't sound as if there will much opposition in Plant City, nothing anyway like the fight put up by Berkeley, Santa Monica, Venice, Ukiah, the Bronx, and other communities when their post office was threatened.  The City Manager for Plant City says he would like to see a business such as a restaurant open in the location.  And that's probably just what will happen.

(Photo credit: Plant City FL post office, Google Streetviews)

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