Approximately 50 people attended a meeting Wednesday night hoping to hear about the future of the earthquake-damaged Franklin Station post office building. But to their frustration, few details about the fate of the property were provided.
The United States Postal Service hosted the meeting, held at City Hall, to discuss the permanent relocation of the downtown post office. A temporary facility opened this summer at Second and School streets.
Finding a new home for the post office isn’t what residents wanted to hear about.
“We’re here to talk about the preservation of the building,” Napan Deborah Coffee said of the landmark Franklin Station, which sits surrounded by chainlink fencing a year after the quake.
Rick Tooker, the city’s Community Development director, said the USPS should repair the damaged building and move back in, possibly sharing the space with other tenants. “That’s the place it ought to be,” he said.
“Our preference is to have the post office in that building, even if on a much smaller footprint,” said Juliana Inman, a City Councilmember. She also wants to see the building preserved and protected.
“We’re not leaving downtown,” USPS representative Dean Cameron assured the crowd. However, the USPS only needs about 2,333 square feet of space in downtown. The Franklin station is 13,000 square feet, including the basement.
“We’re in a space that’s bigger than what we need,” said Cameron, noting that carriers that once used the building, now operate out of the Trancas Station.
In early July, the USPS originally proposed demolishing the structure on Second Street. The agency said that it would cost $8 million to repair quake damage, while it would only cost $500,000 for demolition. After public outcry, the federal agency reversed course and said it would sell the building to a buyer who can repair the structure and preserve its architectural integrity.
If someone wants to buy the historic building and lease part of it back to the USPS, “we will consider moving back in,” he said. “Our commitment is to serve the downtown area.”
When the building is offered for sale, “It’s up to bidders to decide if they can renovate it,” said Cameron. If a buyer can renovate it for less than $8 million, “more power to them.”
The USPS will not be releasing the details of the damage, repair or renovation assessments. Doing so could “inappropriately influence bidding by potential purchasers,” said a letter from Tom Samra, vice president of facilities at the USPS.
Napa resident Dennis Bertolucci expressed frustration that those details would not be provided. “I don’t have any facts,” he said, calling for more transparency about the process.
Cindy Heitzman, executive director of the California Preservation Foundation, said she wanted the costs to rehabilitate the building made public, “so we can be assured that the right decisions are being made.”
Coffee was polite, but firm, with her advice to Cameron and the USPS: “You can make this easy or you can make this hard, but we won’t give up.”
“I will pass your comments onto the right people,” said Cameron. Residents should send letters about their wishes for the downtown post office location to the USPS office in San Francisco.