The sale of the iconic Bronx General Post Office may not be as easy as the U.S. Postal Service thought.
Residents, labor groups and even Congressman Jose Serrano have stepped up to halt, or at least slow down, efforts to put the landmarked building on the market.
The enormous property on the Grand Concourse and 149th Street is home to 13 priceless murals by Depression-era artist Ben Shahn, works that capture the spirit of the time, though are unprotected by landmark status.
Bronx residents along with several special interest groups filed appeals with the Postal Regulatory Commission, arguing federal regs in closing historic post offices weren’t followed.
“It’s hoped that the Commission will require the Postal Service to go through a thorough review process,” wrote Steven Hutkins, an NYU professor who’s tracked post office closings for years.
Postal officials have filed a motion to appeal the decision, arguing the post office isn’t closing but relocating within the same zip code as the GPO.
They have said from the beginning they will try and lease a portion of the property to keep its retail end open.
On the political front, Congressman Serrano who represents the district, recently attached a provision to a House spending bill that keeps the sale in limbo until the USPS Inspector General reviews the legality of the selling process. The bill is still churning through the House.
“We cannot have the gems of our communities, often landmarked and protected, sold by the USPS to the top bidder in a wanton and careless manner,” Serrano stated.
A spokeswoman with USPS did not return calls.
What’s At Stake
Highly regarded for its monumental size and historical value, the building is listed as a New York City landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Keeping it landmarked will prevent a future buyer from altering the exterior, though it can change the inside. This could include destroying the 13 Shan lobby murals.
The city Landmarks Commission is mulling a request to extend landmark protection to the lobby.
The financially struggling USPS has been selling its post office stock as a cost-saving move.
It announced plans to sell the post office on December 31, 2012, claiming it only uses 10% of the space in the building, also once the mail distribution center until the operation moved to Manhattan.
While administrative offices take up much of the space, it’s retail center is still thriving, with often long lines.
The public review process started in February with a lackluster, daytime hearing that produced little resident participation, a move postal unions blamed on poor outreach by USPS.
After appeals from both sides, the USPS declared in June that the objections weren’t compelling enough to keep it open.
Still, opponents hope the inspector general’s audit will show discrepancies in its public review. The findings are expected to be released by Oct. 10th.
“That could conceivably put sales on holds until then,” said Hutkins.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383