It would cost more than $8 million to renovate and seismically retrofit Napa’s earthquake-damaged downtown post office, roughly 16 times the cost of demolishing it, the United States Postal Service says.
“Since the Postal Service has been struggling financially for several years, an expenditure that large would be difficult to absorb, even if the rehabilitation were feasible,” said USPS spokesperson Gus Ruiz. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.
Simply to demolish the building, at 1351 Second St., would cost just $500,000. In light of that conclusion, the USPS is moving forward with the plan to demolish the historic property on Second Street, which has remained closed since the day of the quake.
Local officials, however, have objected loudly, fearing the loss of yet another of downtown’s dwindling number of historic buildings.
“If it can’t be a post office that doesn’t mean it has to be demolished,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
Several local developers have expressed interest in saving the structure.
“There’s got to be a way to preserve it,” said Napa developer Jim Keller.
“It’d be a shame to lose that piece of history in downtown,” Michael Holcomb said.
“I think that’s wrong,” said Andy Beckstoffer about the demolition.
“It’s too beautiful a building to knock down,” said George Altamura.
But merely stabilizing the structure is not enough. Not included in the $8 million estimate are costs for remodeling mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, soft costs such as design, or identifying and mitigating hazardous materials, said Ruiz.
“Given the building’s age, asbestos and lead-based paint likely are present, which would add to the cost, he said. Additionally, the scope of the repairs and necessary seismic retrofitting may have significant impact on the building’s historic integrity.
Ruiz said the Postal Service assessed the damage and concluded that restoration would likely require complete removal and reconstruction of the historic masonry veneer brick at the base of the building’s tall walls, necessitating shoring in place of the upper portions of brick veneer.
The steel structure was not designed to support the dead load of the brick veneer, however, indicating that shoring in place would be impossible.
Ruiz said the USPS will consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer, Julianne Polanco, and other consulting parties and involve the public about the demolition. Additional details or a timeline of that plan were not provided.
“At this point, we are very early in the process, but we are optimistic about reaching an agreement,” to demolish the building, said Ruiz.
That’s something Thompson wants to prevent.
“That structure is a very important part of our community and a historic building,” said Thompson. “Folks in … Napa have been very clear about their desire to keep it. We should make every effort to keep it.”
In a July 6 letter from Thompson to USPS Postmaster General and CEO Megan Brenner, the Congressman asked for a detailed description of the cost for repairs and retrofitting.
“I am deeply concerned by the lack of communication between the USPS, the local community and my office,” he wrote to Brennan.
“This has to be a transparent process,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “We need to figure out what these costs are and make our decisions based on those facts, not on speculation as to what it would cost,” he said.
He didn’t want to speculate on next steps. “I want to see what the numbers are and move on from there.”
Thompson said he’s already had people contact him about buying the building. He wouldn’t say how many or who they were.
Keller, who owns the Young Building at Coombs and Third streets, and the Main Street Exchange Building on Main Street, said that the postal building is an “integral part” of downtown. He’d like to see it saved “at any cost.”
“If they put it out to bid as is, someone will take it on,” he believes. He might be interested, said Keller. He thinks tenants would find the building desirable. “It’s a pretty cool building. I’m sure someone would love pay a good lease rate to be in that space.”
Holcomb owns one of the buildings across the street from the old post office, as well as other downtown Napa properties.
“I think it would be great if there could be a buyer that could keep the historic nature of it,” said Holcomb. “It’s a beautiful building in a great location.” He might also be interested. “It’s just a matter of what the price would be and how much it would cost to redevelop. We’ll have to see what they want to do. The ball is definitely in their court.”
Altamura, owner of the nearby Uptown theater and the Old Adobe, Napa’s oldest building, said that he would like to save the building, if nobody else will.
If the Postal Service is willing to sell, he promised to restore the building to its former glory, though he didn’t have any particular plans for what to do after that.
Altamura said he has begun discussions with the Postal Service, but he declined to say how far the talks have gone or what he thinks the property might ultimately be worth.
In part, he said, he’s making his interest public to see if he can generate interest from other developers or philanthropists to save the building. Should another worthy investor step up, he said, he would gladly step aside. His only objective, he said, is to see that someone saves the building from being razed.
If he were to acquire the post office, he said, it would operate separately from the Uptown, which is immediately behind the building on the same block.
Beckstoffer, who bought the old Napa Register building on Coombs Street, said The USPS “has some responsibility to the community. I hope they would follow the lead of some of the rest of us that are restoring these old buildings amidst the new construction.”
But the vintner said he was not interested in buying it.
“We’re not investors in commercial property. We had a special purpose for the old Register building. It was to motivate others to come downtown and get the wine industry involved in the revitalization of downtown.”
When asked if the USPS would consider selling the building “as-is” Ruiz said no.
“The property is historic and the Postal Service believes demolition is the only feasible option,” he wrote. The property’s current as-is value or the land value has not been currently appraised, he said.
The idea of downsizing postal offices shouldn’t be a surprise to any city. “It’s well known that first class mail volume has declined significantly over the years and it’s unlikely the Franklin Street station was immune to that trend,” said Ruiz.
The USPS believes the new location at 1436 Second St. is appropriately sized for the operations there. “Whether the former building was the right size was not part of the decision process — the earthquake caused the move,” he said.
Ruiz also added that the USPS would consider preserving the history of the building through photographs and interpretive text or taking reasonable steps to further historic preservation elsewhere in Napa.
Notices of any plans will be posted at the postal annex at 820 Randolph St. and the new post office storefront on Second St., opening on July 13.
The Napa Franklin Station is one of three postal facilities serving the city. The post office was built in 1933 with funding from the Public Works Administration. In 1985, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Register editor Sean Scully contributed to this story.
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