Unused space, high rental rates plague Main Street post office
July 9, 2013 at 2:09 a.m.
Updated July 10, 2013 at 2:10 a.m.
A tour last week through Victoria's Main Street post office raised red flags for Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.
Namely: space, efficiency and the cost to keep things going.
"I wanted to go look for myself," he said of the building. "They've got a whole lot more space than they need."
The United States Postal Service in June sent letters and surveys to Victoria post office customers, alerting them of a study looking into combining operations at the Main Street office with the James Moody Station Post Office at 2804 Sam Houston Drive.
Part of the reasoning behind the potential consolidation - no decision has yet been made - was the hefty rental rate.
The Main Street office pays the United States General Services Administration $305,000 in rent and about $160,000 in utilities annually for space inside the Federal Building at 312 S. Main St., according to an email from Sam Bolen, the Postal Service's regional public information officer. That adds up to about $38,750 per month.
Additional expenses, including a $1,500 annual lease with the city of Victoria to rent the parking lot, also join the mix.
Bolen said the rental amount remained mostly unchanged even after 2011, when inbound mail processing operations transferred from the Victoria office to Corpus Christi, taking much of the equipment with it and leaving unused space within the building.
The Main Street office occupies about 27,000 square feet, Gina Blyther Gilliam, the service administration's regional public affairs officer, said in an email. Rental rates are set according to federal law by periodic market rent appraisals, she said.
Farenthold, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census, noted the building's overabundance of space and the fact that, because of its hours of operation and the way the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system works, rent and utilities are costly.
He proposed a number of measures that could help.
Giving the Postal Service the ability to do what it needs to survive - something that would affect all post offices nationwide - is key, he said.
He said he also plans to speak to the GSA about lowering the rent in Victoria's office. A member of his office has already spoken with the agency's congressional liaison.
"I don't think the GSA wants to lose their anchor tenant, so the post office has some leverage there," said Farenthold, who also is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which oversees the GSA.
Other options include creating a separate air system specifically for the post office or leaving the space entirely and either renting or purchasing another downtown location.
"There are a lot of options," he said, noting Victoria is too big a city to have just one post office. "That's why we're studying it."
Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek, who toured the building along with Farenthold, said he hopes there is a way to amend the contract so the post office pays its fair share.
"They're paying for excess space and utilities they shouldn't have to," he said. "To me, we just need to fix that, and they're a profitable or viable business. That's the part I find frustrating."
Polasek said his overall hope is that the Postal Service bases its final decision regarding the building on good information.
He encouraged concerned residents to attend a community meeting the post office will host from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Victoria Electric Cooperative auditorium, 102 S. Ben Jordan St.
The meeting, according to a Postal Service news release, will offer information about the feasibility study and offer community members a chance to offer input.
Tony Holladay stood at a counter inside the Main Street office Monday sorting his day's letters. The Sunbelt Rentals employee turned in his own letter - his response to the survey asking about the possible close - several days ago.
In it, he encouraged the national agency to keep the location open.
Many nearby businesses use the office daily, he said, and it doesn't make sense to herd everyone into the James Moody location. Lines inside the office on Sam Houston Drive are already long enough, he said.
One other issue - economic development - also comes into play, he said, noting the post office means added business downtown.
"Aren't you trying to make downtown grow?" he asked of Victoria.
Bertha McDowell, vice president of First Victoria National Bank, said closing the Main Street branch could mean added hardship for some residents.
Many people can't afford to drive across town, she said, and the bus stops directly in front of the Main Street post office. Others don't have the technology available to make purchases and do their postal business online.
"Victoria is big enough that it needs two post offices," McDowell added.
For Aaron Burleson, a retired Victoria police officer, convenience is important - he said the Main Street office has faster service - but so does sentimentality.
He remembers visits to the Main Street location as far back as the 1960s, which is really as far back as he can remember anything, he said with a laugh, noting he was born in 1959. In 1976, he even celebrated the bicentennial there.
He said it doesn't make sense to shutter a location where so many people carry out business every day.
"Don't close the post office," he said.