Postal Service yanks Fort Worth Post Office from market

By Scott Nishimura

The U.S. Postal Service has pulled the downtown Fort Woth Post Office off the market, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed Tuesday.

That came shortly after board members of Fort Worth’s Lancaster tax increment finance district on Tuesday authorized $7 million for the city to make an offer for the historic main Post Office at 251 W. Lancaster Ave. downtown.

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Polly Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, confirmed the agency had sent a letter to Mayor Betsy Price notifying the city that the 251 W. Lancaster Ave. property was off the market. The city has been in talks with the Postal Service about the property, which the agency had put on the market earlier this year.

“We’re retaining the property, the retail will stay,” Gibbs said. Gibbs said she didn’t have information about the agency’s rationale.

The Postal Service may also add other operations to the downtown facility, Price said.

“We were glad to hear about USPS’s decision to forego its plan to sell the Lancaster Poist Office on the open market,” Price said in a statement.

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“The city has already invested a great deal in improving the Lancaster corridor in anticipation of new development. Having the Lancaster Post Office sold to the highest bidder was a potential threat to our vision for Lancaster. We understand that the post office retail services in the building will remain, and other USPS operations may also be added. We’re relieved that this historical building will stay in the good hands of the USPS for the foreseeable future.”

City Councilman Jungus Jordan, chairman of the Lancaster TIF, said the Postal Service’s decision “is great news for us.

“Our purpose is to secure the future use,” he said. “We will not have a derelict building, we will not have to use taxpayer dollars to secure a future use, we will not have to worry about a future use.”

The city views the Post Office has a critical piece of the Lancaster corridor, and its decision to move on the property was advanced by its angst over the continued dormancy of private plans for the large T&P warehouse next door.

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Jordan said Postal Service authorities in Washington apparently made the decision Monday. The service sent the letter to the city whle the Lancaster TIF board was meeting.

Council members will discuss in executive session this afternoon at their weekly pre-council meeting whether to proceed with an offer anyway, Jordan said.

“I personally would recommend that we put it out there,” he said.

Tom Samra, vice president of facilities for the Postal Service, said in a two-paragraph letter to Price that “after further review, based on our supplemental anaysis of the buisness and other factors, the Postal Service has changed its strategy for the downtown station and will now retain the facility for Postal Service operations, including customer retail services.”

Arlene Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service in Fort Worth, said, “the Postal Service, when making decisions regarding its facility network, continually analyzes a number of factors…In the case of the Fort Worth downtown station, we made the best business decision for the Postal Service, opting to retain the building.”

Jordan said after the TIF board vote he expected City Manager Tom Higgins could send an offer to the U.S. Postal Service as soon as this week offering to buy the building for $7 million.

The letter also is to offer incentives to the Postal Service to move its retail operations on West Lancaster across the street to the Pinnacle Bank Place building, under development by the city’s Local Development Corp.

The Local Development Corp. would offer the incentives, which could include finish-out allowances and rent concessions, Jay Chapa, executive director of the city’s Housing and Economic Development department, said in an interview after the board vote.

The Postal Service, in announcing earlier this year that it planned to move out of the Lancaster Avenue building and put it up for sale, had said it needs about 4,000 square feet of space nearby.

If the offer proceeds, other taxing entities in the TIF – Tarrant County and the hospital district, Tarrant County College, and the Tarrant Regional Water District – also must vote on the agreement with the city.

The City Council also will have to vote on it, but the offer would go out with the proviso that it’s pending council approval.

The TIF and city action is meant to try and get the Postal Service to sell the building outright, without submitting it to a potentially lengthy bid process, Chapa said after the board vote.

The market is “prime” today, but conditions could change if the Postal Service draws out its auction process, Chapa said.

The $7 million is the TIF board and city’s best estimate on what it should take to get the property, and is not meant to be levered, Jordan and Chapa said.

“We feel this is a fair price,” Jordan said in the interview after the board vote.

The city has noodled for years on the possibility of trying to buy the building and turn it into a grand new city hall, but Chapa said there’s demand today from hotel and residential developers who want to take advantage of the nearby T&P rail station. The rail line runs on the south side of the Post Office buiilding.

If the building eventually becomes a city facility, the city would have to reimburse the TIF for its portion of the $7 million, the TIF board said its motion, approved unanimously.

The city’s share is about 48 percent, Chapa said.

The $7 million would come out of the TIF’s estimated $17.2 million fund balance this year, Chapa told the TIF board.

Tax increment finance districts, authorized by Texas law, generate cash that local governments can use for structural improvements and infrastructure. The available tax increment for a specific TIF is based on the difference between appraised values in the year the TIF is established and subsequent years the TIF is in existence.

The 220-acre Lancaster TIF was created in 2003 and it lasts through 2024.

The TIF zone is generally bounded on the north by Seventh and Third streets, the south by Interstate 30, east by Calhoun Street, and west by Henderson Street.

Its projects have included the T&P Terminal, T&P Warehouse, public art, median improvements, Omni Hotel sidewalk widening, Lancaster redevelopment, Oncor building redevelopment, and Hampton Inn and Suites.