Wednesday, May 19

Planning for adaptive post office reuse

Mixing public and private uses in St. Louis' Old Post Office. Flickr: Kodamakitty
The author of the blog Connecticut Yankee Out West has raised an intriguing question. Recognizing an art deco post office for sale in Eugene, Oregon, he notes:
"Unfortunately, the United States Post Office is going to sell hundreds of buildings like these because the USPS just isn’t going to need as much capacity going forward. Yet, these structures are strikingly unique and immediately recognizable symbols of our civic culture."
He wants to know who's looking ahead of this transition to make sure these important buildings not only remain in existence but continue as civic institutions and public amenities. Post offices have tended to be toward the very center of cities in prominent locations, and in some very small towns the post office practically is the city. The best use of the space into the future probably will not be sorting and distributing physical letters and parcels. But what will it be?

Because post offices are federal property, their resale is governed differently than just any other historic building. The federal General Service Administration is in charge of the process, called the Real Property Disposal progam, and they have the obligation to offer the sale to other government agencies, non-profits, or homeless use before putting it out for a general auction. According to the GSA, about a third of the $3 billion in sales has, in fact, been transferred to such "public benefit" uses.

Ever since reading his posts, I've been rummaging around for some post office adaptive reuses that have maintained public use in some way. Here's a few I've found:
  • The Old Post Office in St. Louis was redeveloped over the last decade by a public-private partnership and is now used as Webster University, a state Court of Appeals, plenty of retail and food service, some non-profit offices, and other offices for public agencies.
  • Of course, there's the Moynihan Station. With a boost from stimulus funds, the old Farley Post Office will be redeveloped into a train station in New York City. 
  • A former post office in Natchez, MS was converted into an African American History Museum in the 1990's.
  • A former post office in Devil's Lake, ND is being used as a heritage center and for special community events.
  • A former post office in Charlottesville, VA is in use as a downtown library.
  • This is a little different, but the U.S. Courthouse and Dallas Post Office will retain the post office on the ground floor and reuse upper floors for a hotel, office, or condos.
  • The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Brooklyn had always contained both USPS and courts, but in the 1990's the building was renovated to take space away from the shrinking post office and reallocate it to the expanding courts.
  • A couple of former post offices are being used for school administration offices, but I can't find any reuses as a school itself (probably because of tight requirements for school design).
There has to be hundreds of other configurations that have been attempted. Are there any other creative ideas out there?


LH said...

Very interesting. We're looking at an RFP right now re: determining the social value of the US Postal Service, with specific sections devoted to property value impact and social gathering role of post office buildings.

Diane said...

Here in suburban/rural Rhode Island the post office seems to work the other way. Instead of occupying purpose built structures it takes up odd locations. Our local one occupies a former small supermarket. Others are a room in a house and a small part of an old textile mill. (My latest hobby is stopping for stamps at every little P.O. I pass. I recommend it as a cheap tourist activity.)

bill said...

Cool to see you looking and finding so many other interesting examples of reuse. There was a news article about the Eugene post office out here a few weeks ago, and while the P.O. is probably going to lease back the old building, in the long run it's unsure what will happen to the facility. Strangely, several local historic preservations seem not to care what happens to the back warehouse features since they're not done up in brick and marble or have murals painted in them, taking the attitude that they're it's just an eyesore, but warehouse spaces are often the most useful in enhancing the overall use of the building isn't it? And docking bays for the little Post vans are interesting accoutrements to the building, too. I still haven't seen much national level thinking done about this or much recognition about the sheer potential so much federally owned retail space represents nationwide--Thanks for spreading the message

Sean Tubbs said...

Interesting post, and something to think about for the next twenty years or so.

Locally, Supervisor Dennis Rooker has inquired about the future of the sorting facility off of Airport Road. While that facility is not really historic, it's sitting there waiting for something to happen to it. Another example of adaptive re-use?

We inquired, and the post office is set to make a decision this summer about potential options. Rooker suggested it might be converted to a small industrial park.

Daniel Nairn said...

Yeah, bill, I thought there would be some paper or book out there with a more general analysis of post office redevelopment, but I found nothing at all.

Sean, that's really interesting. As part of a class project, I was on a team that looked at that USPS site on Airport Road, in order to envision it's redevelopment. I agree that a small industrial park would make sense for the general area, but we thought the northern side of Airport Road would work better for industry. There are already industrial parks directly to the north, and they could work off of each other. The USPS site, on the south side, is close to the growing Hollymead Town Center. Something that matches this vision may work better for this site. We conceived of a hotel/convention center for the USPS site. It would have visibility from the trip out of the Airport, be a comfortable distance from US-29, and possibly function as an extension of the town center. I'm not sure if it's the best idea for reality, but it made an interesting design plan.

Anna B said...

I just had to include a note about the Chicago post office, mainly because it is an epic adaptive-reuse challenge... unlike the average neighborhood/small town post office, it's something like 2 million square feet and takes up an entire city block right in downtown Chicago.
I believe it has been sold, and there was talk of turning it into condos or mixed use of some kind, but it's just so big!
(They also used the old lobby for the bank robbery scene in the beginning of "Batman: Dark Knight").
I think the best use of a building like this has to be subdividing it into several commercial and light industrial uses... compare to the reuse of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, another huge concrete challenge.

About the post office:

Info about the sale:

Info about Brooklyn Army Terminal:

taterbins said...

The post post office in my neighborhood closed about 4 years ago. It was purchased and renovated as rental apartments and restaurant space on the street level. Check it out below.

taterbins said...

The post post office in my neighborhood closed about 4 years ago. It was purchased and renovated as rental apartments and restaurant space on the street level. Check it out below.

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