Posted 1/12/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
A proposal to relocate the post office in Tioga has a few residents concerned, while others are sympathetic to the difficulties the branch has operating in its current location.
Representatives from the United States Postal Service spoke to a gathering of about a dozen residents at the Tioga branch about the reasons for the move and the process it will take before any final decisions are made.
They also asked for input from the public on how they feel about the various options the post office is considering.
Greg Shelton, real estate specialist with the USPS, said the relocation is necessary to accommodate growing demand for services at the location.
The relocation proposal requires the office space to be at least 5,227 gross square feet, which comes to 4,500 net square feet. The net area is considered the usable office space.
They currently have about 2,000 square feet, less than half what they say they need.
The location should also have, Shelton explained, 48 parking spaces. This will allow for three handicap spaces, eight employee spaces, and the rest would be for customers. However, the parking isn’t a deal breaker.
“That’s more of a wish,” Shelton said.
A primary building under consideration as the new location is Hegstad Furniture, catty corner from the current building.
“I’ve talked with the owner of the building and he is considering leasing that,” Shelton said.
Hegstad Furniture doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of desired parking, but it is in the downtown area, which appears highly desirable for those who use the branch, Shelton said.
“The main focus we have is trying to stay as close as possible to the existing post office,” Shelton said.
However, some people wondered if the new location wouldn’t also have problems.
Resident Jodeen Bergstrom-Dean asked Shelton if the post office is sure the building will be suitable.
“We looked at purchasing it, and there were a ton of issues,” she said.
Shelton said they would look into all these issues before settling on the location.
Shelton said the USPS will look at any options within the designated relocation area. This irregular area runs from 67th Street to Signal Road, but also includes the Annabelle Homes area. The western boundary is 115th Avenue, and the eastern boundary is ND 40.
The commercial space in Tioga Square behind Cash Wise is also under consideration as a secondary option, Shelton said.
He said the apartments located above the commercial space could be an issue there, as noise abatement may restrict operating hours. Also, he didn’t believe the location would be ideal.
“I don’t think it’s going to work,” he said.
Tioga resident Russ Papineau warned Shelton of the uproar that sprung up when the city commission gave some consideration to moving city hall up to Tioga Square as a temporary measure during renovation.
Many residents protested the idea as taking more business out of downtown and creating inconveniences for residents.
“The fight’s on if you go out there. That’s not my words. We went through that with city hall, and common sense prevailed,” Papineau said.
Papineau also questioned if the increased space is needed, since the branch currently has more than 270 unrented post office boxes.
Vicki Opp, manager of post office operations for the Bakken region, said the need for increased space has more to do with operations behind the counter than post office box space.
Other residents at the meeting also commented on how cramped things look behind the counter at the branch.
Another option is to move into commercial space developed to lease to the post office.
“Currently, it’s not planned to build a facility. The challenge there is trying to find a building large enough,” Shelton said.
David Papineau, who owns the building the post office currently leases, is concerned about losing his tenant.
Papineau leased the space several years back before the boom for 60 cents a square foot, which is far less than what commercial space goes for now.
“So they’ve been paying 60 cents all through the oil boom and now they’re going to go somewhere and pay five times what they pay now,” David Papineau said.
Papineau said he put in a new roof, flooring, and air conditioning. Since the USPS signed a five-year lease, he’s been locked into the low rate with his tenant.
Another possibility was of the postal service moving its operation into Papineau Insurance, which operates in the rest of the building.
“I’m here to listen to all options you have,” Shelton said.
Since they’d be moving into a new space, a new lease would be negotiated, which would pay current fair market values. These are significantly higher than what the USPS currently pays Papineau.
Papineau is unsure he would go that route, because he said he would have to rent other commercial space for the insurance offices, essentially spending all the rental revenue from the post office to accommodate a new location. There may be no benefit in it for the hassle.
He still took Shelton on a tour of the insurance offices after the meeting to at least have the proposal under consideration.
While the slowdown in the oil industry has reduced this demand, Shelton said, the process of planning actually takes several months to do all the analysis and approvals before they can begin scouting new locations.
Only then do they initiate the public information and input phase. So the plan actually began before anyone was certain how long the decline in oil prices would last.
David Papineau warned they could be basing their required space on old numbers that no longer apply.
“It’s just the way it is with the government. They’re a day late and a dollar short,” said resident Candice Wenger.
Shelton said even with reduced growth in the area, the demand still exceeds the space they have. Online shopping is driving a lot more packaged mail, which requires more space to organize.
Shelton said the plan also makes sense when one considers the long-term outlook of a post office relocation. They typically sign a five year lease with another five year option. Then, they will typically renegotiate based on fair market value two more five-year leases.
“Most of the time we’re staying where we’re at for 20 years,” Shelton said.
And in the cycle of oil prices, no one can be sure Tioga won’t see another period of rapid growth in that time.
The public still has 30 days to comment on the proposal, and this includes anyone with commercial space they would like to lease for the relocation.
Anyone can provide input on the proposal or request a lease package by mailing Shelton at U.S. Postal Service, Attn: Greg Shelton-Tioga, 200 E. Kentucky Ave. Denver, CO 80209-9950.
After all the public input and options are collected, these will be presented to the vice president of facilities for the USPS, who will make a final decision.
Once this decision is made, the public will be notified.