Dover's post office must seek new quarters when its lease expires in 2020

Plans are in the works for a new city administrative complex downtown -- and the plans could include using the land where Dover’s U.S. Post Office now stands.

That’s why the Postal Service must relocate from the downtown address it has occupied for more than a half-century.

“It’s because we’re looking at building a new city hall complex and that could be a new site,” Dave Hugg, Dover’s director of planning and inspections, said following a June 11 city council session.

Dover officials have long sought a way to expand and consolidate city services around the current city hall but have been stymied by a lack of space. The departure of the nearby post office could solve that problem.

The Monday meeting featured a short briefing by USPS Real Estate Specialist Richard Hancock, who told councilmen the post office lease expires in March 2020.

“The city owns the property. We own the building,” Hancock said in a later session with reporters. “The lease expires. The city wants to do something else with the property.”

The USPS has been working with the city to extend the lease incrementally while it searches for a new site, he said.

“We are working with the city, right now, on different options, together,” he said.

Prime real estate

In an earlier telephone call, Mayor Robin Christiansen said the situation is complicated, brought about in the early 1960s by an arrangement to expand postal delivery in and around Dover.

Fifty years ago, the postal office occupied what is now the Wesley United Methodist Church community center, even then considered much too small to handle the ever-increasing mail volume.

“They decided a new building was needed because the city and the county were growing,” Christiansen said. The deal eventually saw the Post Office Department, as the USPS then was known, agree to lease a parcel of land from the city while owning the building. It would be on vacant land next to the new Dover Hotel, now the Treadway Towers.

“It was prime real estate,” Christiansen said, adding the arrangement was not considered unusual at the time.

Work began in 1964 and concluded with a dedication Saturday, May 1, 1965. The state-of-the-art building was ideal: adjacent to a large municipal parking lot, it had plenty of space for customers, post office staff and its fleet of delivery vehicles.

Over time that has changed. What once was open land behind the building sprouted condominiums and the post office shares a much-diminished parking area with the Dover Public Library.

When they come to work, postal workers park their cars at the Public Archives building across Loockerman Street. Some of the delivery trucks park at Treadway Towers. In addition, it is past its planned 50-year lifespan.

“It really is in bad shape,” Hugg confirmed. “There are some serious structural issues.”

Several postal workers attending the council session corroborated Hugg, citing settling problems, cracks, and leaky roofs.

Mayor: I prefer downtown

Briefing council members Monday night, Hancock said the process of finding a new location is just beginning. He said the USPS is working with Hugg and other officials, a statement the city planner later confirmed.

That includes conferring with Dover residents to get their input, Hancock said; the opportunity will come in a future public meeting.

Ideally, the Postal Service would like about 3.5 acres, enough for a 23,000-square-foot building with about 160 parking spaces, Hancock said. In response to a question from Councilman Roy Sudler, Hancock said that could include a property such as the vacant Value City store on Bay Road.

Hancock later told reporters the best site would be one as close as possible to the current building on Loockerman Plaza.

Although not ideal, one possibility could include construction of a small office somewhere downtown where people would pick up and drop off mail plus retail space for postal products. A separate mail processing building could be elsewhere, he said.

“We’re not going to be in that building,” Hancock said of the current post office. “But in terms of having a retail component and then having a carrier operation in a separate location, yes, we are considering that.”

Christiansen would prefer a new postal center downtown.

“We need to make it convenient for people to use,” he said. “It’s also one of the anchors in our plans to rehabilitate the downtown. It would be detrimental to that plan to move it elsewhere.”

Hancock said the USPS always looks to put new facilities as close as possible to old ones.

Although he was at the council session on a separate matter, Levy Court Commissioner Alan Angel spoke up during Hancock’s talk with reporters.

“I hate to say this, but if they move that post office, that will kill this downtown area,” Angel said. “Look at all the people it brings into [the downtown].”

People like to visit the downtown area, including tourists who need mail service, he said.  “We do have a lot of people who come from out of state, who have interests, to visit,” Angel said.

Hancock added that it’s too early to give a timeline for the move.

“We look at different alternatives and each alternative would have a different timeline,” he said.

Hancock said while the search continues, it’s too early to reveal what properties have been considered.

“If there is a ‘for lease’ sign or a ‘for sale’ sign, somebody’s looked at it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’ve done a bunch of deep drilling. That takes time.”