Bronxites fuming over a plan to auction off the borough’s historic General Post Office are finding allies in Washington.
Buried in Congress’ latest $1.1 trillion spending bill is a clause that could suspend the sale of the four-story 170,000-square foot building on the Grand Concourse and E. 149th Street until a federal agency investigates charges that the United States Postal Service’s sale skirts national historic preservation laws.
“I understand the USPS has a serious revenue problem and is trying hard to bring costs in line with outlays, but selling off historic properties to the highest bidder without following the appropriate procedures is completely unacceptable,” said local congressman Jose Serrano, who helped draft the clause in Congress’ legislation.
In the bill, which passed both houses of Congress on Jan. 16, the federal appropriation committee —after recommending over $70 million to the USPS— suggested that the agency “suspend the sale of any historic post office” until the Inspector General’s office checks that the USPS has upheld Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Fulfilling Section 106 calls for involving the public, “assessing adverse effects,” and often crafting some sort of Memorandum of Understanding with the community, according to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).
No public involvement
Critics of the move have charged that USPS has not properly involved the public since the agency announced the sale of the borough’s biggest post office in March 2013 as a part of plan to close a $20 million budget gap.
“Our priority is for this location to remain a post office,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “However, in light of the fact that the USPS has made an apparent decision to sell the Bronx GPO over our objections, good faith demands that they seek community input on the future of the building.”
Since Jan. 13 the USPS has listed the Grand Concourse edifice for sale on the website www.uspspropertiesforsale.com.
Initial bids were due Jan. 15, and the offers so far have been “competitive,” said USPS spokeswoman Connie Chirichello.
Worth $14 million
The real estate site Property Shark estimates the GPO’s value at $14 million.
“Any prospective buyers have the opportunity to respond to the ‘call to offers’ process and all offers will be entertained,” Chirichello said.
The online listing stipulates that any new owner of the space lease it to USPS for $1 for a year while the agency searches for a new site.
A new developer cannot raze the exterior of the building, which since 1976 has been landmarked and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nor can it take away the Depression-era murals inside the GPO’s lobby, which became a city landmark this December.