Downtown post office hits market; USPS searching for new space
As the "for sale" sign placed last week in front of the post office at 154 Post Road E. indicates, some prime real estate is on the market in Westport. So far, there have been no takers as the United States Postal Service (USPS) attempts to rid itself of the building and move to smaller digs in town.
The 4,960-square-foot structure, with an almost equally large basement, is simply too big for the seven employees considering the dwindling amount of mail that has to be handled, according to USPS spokesperson Mauren Marion.
"It's a grand lady and to be candid, it's a beautiful thing, but it's much more than we need," Marion said about the post office, which has been a fixture of downtown Westport since 1935.
There's no indication of when the main post office will move since a buyer has not yet been found, but in the meantime, Marion said the USPS is looking at several possible buildings to lease in the downtown area with square footage in the range of 2,000. In the coming months, a public meeting will likely be held to outline the possibilities, and another meeting will be held when the sale of the building is finalized.
"If we can put the building in the hands of the right party who can do the right things with it and we can put ourselves in a facility that is still very accessible to downtown Westport, then it's a win for everybody," she said.
Normally, she said, once the USPS completes the sale of the building, a new location is then sought. In the case of Westport, she said the two steps are being done concurrently to ensure a smoother transition and to avoid disuptions ino postal services.
"Typically we have one done and the second begun, but in this case we have two different streams going on at the same time," she said.
The property was last appraised at $3.65 million, and Marion said another appraisal will likely be conducted to determine the market value, especially in light of the nearby Old Town Hall property at 90-100 Post Road E. selling recently for $2.3 million (see page C1 for story). She would not give a price for the post office building because she wants the "market to determine the price" and not be restricted to a set price.
"We want to be sure that what we have scribbled on the back of the napkin is a fair and appropriate price," she said.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff publicly said earlier this year that he would consider a partnership between a developer and the town to purchase and retool the building for a variety of possible uses, including an art center, a cafe, teen center or mini-movie theater.
"I haven't heard from them," Joseloff said of representatives from the USPS. "Given the economic times it doesn't seem likely [to be involved in the purchase], but I don't know what they're asking for the post office."
The looming closure of the post office was announced in October 2009 as part of ongoing efforts by the USPS to make up a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.
The property broker is Stamford-based Cushman & Wakefield, and according to Skip Lane, director of the company, the post office building has been on the market for several weeks.
"It's downtown Westport, which is one of the most coveted retail real estate in the country," he said. "It's a bit of a tweener because it's not on Main Street, but it's certainly in walking distance. It could realistically be considered downtown without having to pay downtown prices."
He said the building might be attractive to a national retail chain considering its size, but such a chain might prefer being on Main Street. Still, there are other options. He's fielded questions from some people interested in opening a restaurant.
"I think it's a great restaurant site, which I think would help downtown," he said. "It'd be an added attraction to the area."