How to rent a piece of history: JLL’s USPS Properties for Lease



Last summer Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) replaced CBRE as the Postal Service’s exclusive provider of real estate services.  As stated on the USPS page on its website, JLL is “the transaction manager and exclusive broker for USPS’ 280 million-square-foot U.S. portfolio.”  JLL is responsible for negotiating leases on 25,500 properties the Postal Service leases from private owners, brokering the sale of USPS properties, and leasing out excess space in USPS  buildings.  (There’s more about the transition from CBRE to JLL in this previous post.)

A few weeks ago, JLL began listing USPS properties for sale and lease on its website.  There are currently about 320 properties on the site.  Three are properties for sale, among them the historic post office in Richmond, Calif.  The rest of them are post offices and other USPS buildings that have extra space that is available for leasing.

The JLL website has a map of the properties and an easy-to-view list, which includes the property address, the total square footage of the building, the square footage for the space available for lease, and a location map.  For all but four of the properties, however, there’s no other information about the nature of the space that’s available.  Presumably, as the site is developed, more information will be added.

In order to learn more about the listings, we merged the JLL list with the USPS facilities reports for each state, which indicate the original date of occupancy for the building, usually the date when construction was completed.   (Our national version of the reports is here.)  We also merged the JLL list with a list of post offices on the National Register that we created a while back.  You can see our new list of properties for lease here, and you can visit the table on Google Fusion here, where it can be filtered, sorted, searched, and downloaded.


Following the ACHP’s recommendation

Most of the spaces offered for lease are located in historic post office buildings.  This may be a sign that the Postal Service has decided that leasing out extra space is a better alternative than using the excess as a justification for selling the building.

Perhaps the Postal Service is taking seriously one of the key recommendations in Preserving Historic Post Offices: A Report to Congress, prepared by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation back in 2014.  The report was highly critical of various things the Postal Service was doing — and not doing — to preserve its legacy of historic post offices.

One of the criticisms was that the Postal Service was not following Section 111 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which “requires federal agencies to give serious consideration to alternative uses for historic properties and authorizes leases of such properties to non-federal entities.”

As the ACHP pointed out, “Leasing can provide an income stream to maintain a historic post office while retaining the building in public ownership. This approach could offer an effective tool for dealing with excess capacity while allowing the continued use of the post office for retail operations in a small portion of the building.”

The ACHP proceeds to make this recommendation: “The USPS should evaluate the viability of leasing historic post offices, or portions thereof, in accordance with Section 111 of NHPA as an alternative to disposal.”  


History for lease

Our list shows that 270 of the 316 properties with space to lease are historic post office buildings, either on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Some 57 of the post offices are already listed on the National Register, and 136 others are highly significant because they date back to the New Deal or before (i.e., pre-1945).  Those in the latter group are just like the post offices on the National Register, and were they to be nominated, they would most likely meet the criteria.

Another 77 properties were built between 1945 and 1967, so they are more than 50 years old and thus eligible for the NR.  They may not have the cachet of the pre-1945 post offices, but many have a Mid-Century Modern and early Sixties look that’s becoming increasingly appreciated by preservationists.

The nomination forms for the National Register for most post offices were submitted many years ago, and they usually contain black-and-white photographs of the building’s exterior and sometimes of its interior as well.  As the photos show, these are really stately buildings worthy of preservation.


Quality interiors and excellent locations

Most of the historic post offices are landmark buildings located right in the heart of downtown.  They are often part of bustling, revitalized historic districts, in close proximity to other businesses, cultural venues, and densely populated residential areas.  That makes the spaces very attractive to many kinds of organizations and businesses in the downtown area.

The historic buildings typically have attractive architectural features like hardwood floors, stone and marble work, high ceilings, and an appealing ambiance.  They often have a beautiful lobby, sometimes adorned with a New Deal-era mural.  (Click on image for source.)


So far the JLL website provides detailed information on only two post office buildings, both of them historic properties: the 1934 Glendale, CA, post office and the 1931 Lewiston, MT, post office, which is listed on the National Register.

The brochure for the Glendale office shows a pair of suites on the second floor, one for 1,355 sf and another with 610 sf, at a monthly rent of 1.50/sf.

The brochure for the Lewiston office shows five second-floor suites of about 320 sf each, at a rate of $400/month per suite.

The brochures also show floor plans and provide other details.  If similar brochures are provided for all of the properties for lease, the JLL website will become a very useful resource.


Possible uses

Upper-floor suites like those in the Lewiston and Glendale post offices could have a variety of uses. They might become offices for law firms, accountants, financial services, social services, architects, arts groups, and other types of businesses and organizations that want to take advantage of the downtown proximity of banks, city halls, court houses, cultural venues, and so on.

If a post office building has space to lease on the first floor, the space could be used for retail businesses related to the mailing business, like a greeting card and gift wrapping store, or a copy and print shop.  Other retailers, businesses, and organizations might find a historic post office to be a congenial location, such as a café, gift shop, book store, antique store, historical society, tourism center, chamber of commerce office, or bank branch.

Larger spaces in the back of the post office might be used as warehouse storage, office space, art studio space, or party and reception venues.  The back of the Farley Post Office in NYC, for example, hosted Fashion Week in 2015.

The leased space in big processing facilities, typically located in office and industrial parks, could be of interest to a variety of other types of businesses, like light industry, warehouse storage, and so on.  Just to get an idea, consider how former P&DC facilities have been recently repurposed.

The former P&DC near Marina del Rey, CA, became the offices for Warner Bros.’ celebrity news organization TMZ. The former Frederick, MD P&DC is now a warehouse for Wonder Book.  The former Northwest Boston P&DC at 200 Smith Street in Waltham, MA, is being transformed into 200 Smith, “a high performance office space designed to support creativity and balance for today’s innovators.” (JLL happens to be the project manager on that one.)


Inventory of the space

The JLL listings can be sorted by the size of the available space and the size of the building as a whole.  In terms of square footage, the spaces range considerably.

At the small end, the Blaine, WA, post office has available space of 35 sq. ft. (really?), and the Delphi, IN, main office has 115 sq. ft. of available space.   There are 20 properties where the available square footage is 300 or less.  That’s a pretty small space, but enough for many interesting uses.

At the other extreme, about 18 properties have more than 5,000 sq. ft. for lease.  The largest available space is the entire 42,500 sq. ft. of the Dayton Air Mail Facility (AMF) in Vandalia, Ohio (it’s also for sale; the JLL brochure is here).

There’s also a brochure for the Montgomery Executive Center in Gaithersburg, MD, which has a whole floor (19,855 sf) available. This modern office building is actually not owned by the Postal Service; rather, as indicated on the facilities report for Maryland, the Postal Service has been leasing space there and now apparently wants to sublease.

According to our list,  the total space for the 318 buildings is about 7.4 million sq. ft, and the average is 23,400 sq. ft.  A total of about 800,000 sq. ft. is for lease, with an average space of about 2,500 sq. ft.  On average, then, the space available for lease is about 10 percent of the interior.

A handful of large spaces, however, skew off the averages.  More than two-thirds of the buildings have less than 2,500 sq. ft. for lease, and about one-third are under 1,000 sq. ft.

At a rate anything like $1 or $1.5 per sq. ft., the 800,000 sq. ft. on the list could bring in about a million dollars a month.  But more important, it would help preserve these buildings as part of the public realm.  If you’re in the market, you should give one of these locations a serious look.

Properties for Lease on the JLL Website

View in full page format.  Go to Fusion Table version.  Visit the list on the JLL site.

With few exceptions, the images come from map search results on Google Place of Business and Street Views. Other sources include Wikimedia, the Living New Deal, Waymarking, and the Post Mark Collectors Club.

(Legend: Red: Listed on the NR; blue: high significance; purple: eligible; green: N/A)


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