Some Northfield residents feel like crickets have been chirping for more than two years.
Since the United States Postal Service’s April 2011 announcement that it would close the downtown Northfield post office, community and historical groups and the city have been working to limit the impact on the community.
They’ve conducted surveys, written letters to historical preservation groups, formed a Save our Post Office task force, and written letters to the United States Postal Service asking them to collaborate on options to retain the history of the building and the downtown district, and to keep postal services available in the area.
But several community leaders say they have heard nothing and become frustrated, and the community is left wondering what will happen.
“At this point, you just kind of pound your head on the desk and wonder what you’re supposed to do anymore,” said Northfield Community Development Coordinator Michele Merxbauer. “We’re not even being met with resistance, it just feels like we’re being ignored.”
Minnesota’s spokesman for the USPS, Peter Nowacki, says the postal service is not ignoring these groups. “It’s certainly a lengthy process, it’s a complicated process, and it’s obviously something that has to be done right.” He added that a historical preservation employee at postal headquarters “said he’s been working on a response, and they should expect something soon.”
The postal service has been trying to sell the building, leading to speculation and some concern about who might purchase it, and what use they have in mind. The city says purchase offers for the building have gone unanswered.
Sarah Beimers, chairwoman of the Northfield Heritage Preservation Commission, wrote a letter in mid-May to Minnesota’s State Historic Preservation Office and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation asking them to “address the lack of Section 106 compliance on the part of the United States Postal Service and its planned undertaking …” Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires an entity to review effects of selling a federal and historic building, which includes involving the public to comment.
“I’m sort of prodding them with this letter to say, you need to approach the postal service again, and make sure they follow through with this regulatory requirement,” she said. “So that’s my reminder to them: We’re still here, the community is very invested in this, they’re doing a lot of work. Everybody’s watching. Everybody’s waiting. And nothing’s happening.”
In a March 22, 2012 letter, the USPS wrote to the Minnesota Historical Society, saying it has found “no adverse effect” in potentially selling the building. According to Nowacki, the postal service plans to conduct a 30-day public comment period — a letter will be posted at the Northfield post office alerting the public. He said if the new use of the building is found to affect the property, the USPS will take steps to mitigate the effects. “All laws, rules and regulations pertaining to the sales of these properties will be followed.”
The postal service plans to move services to the retail window at the annex currently carrying the postal service’s carrier operation on the south side of town. “At first, keeping postal services in the building was considered essential, a top priority,” said Keith Covey, chairman of the Save our Post Office task force, a group that was organized immediately after the announcement of the intended closure. “Now, we recognize that adequate public or private postal retail services might be provided elsewhere in the downtown district.”
Nowacki says the postal service welcomes inquiries from any downtown business willing to contract with the postal service to have a postal unit or “village post office” in places like a pharmacy or grocery store, where people can mail packages, buy stamps, and get services a regular post office would provide.
“We don’t have any inquiries from anybody, but it’s a message that we certainly want to get out there,” Nowacki said.
The post office has been listed for $795,000. An appraisal from the city of Northfield values the property at $323,000. “The lack of a response [to local purchase offers] may be due to those offers being significantly below those financial thresholds,” Nowacki said. He added that an updated appraisal by the USPS is in progress and “may result in a revised list price.”
Merxbauer says the community is still waiting for USPS to directly communicate with them. “In the meantime, the post office is still open, it’s still doing its day-to-day business, but it’s almost like there’s a cloud hanging over it,” she said. “We got the big notification, and the big ‘for sale’ sign went up out front, and then it’s just been crickets chirping since then.”