Downtown Finds New Uses for Old Post Office
By Gayla Roten, State Director, Missouri Main Street Connection | From Main Street Story of the Week | August 1, 2010 |
When the United States Postal Service decided to close the Old Main Post Office in Washington, Missouri, to offset financial losses, Downtown Washington, Inc., (DW, Inc.) and its sister organization, the Historic Washington Foundation (HWF), took action to prevent another vacancy in their downtown.
"The Old Main Post Office project is critical to our economic development efforts downtown," says Richard Hopp, president of HWF. "But more than that, it fulfills our mission of maximizing the use of historic buildings."
Acquiring the Old Main Post Office will not only prevent the abandonment of a viable historic structure, but will also retain postal services and employment in the downtown area. "We couldn't be more excited," said Bridgette Epple, executive director of DWI when purchase of the post office was approved — after 18 months of discussions. "This really is a dream come true. We were literally jumping up and down when we heard the news."
Supplemented by extensive renovation research, HWF submitted a nominal offer to purchase the attractive landmark. Staying true to their missions, the two nonprofit organizations plan to restore the building to its 1923 appearance, using the original blueprints. The work is under way, and one of the new features will be handicapped accessibility, along with longer hours at the post office patron counter.
The project to renovate the Old Main Post Office is being financed by HWF, through grants and Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) tax credits. The Foundation was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The restoration is expected to cost between $400,000 and $500,000.The renovation process will be completed in four phases. Throughout the entire renovation, postal services will continue to be available to the businesses and residents of the Washington community. The project is expected to take 18 months to two years. The key to the success of the renovation will be tenants willing to occupy the building and help produce the day-to-day revenue that will support the not-for-profit ownership.
Strong Partnerships Preserve Downtown
The Historic Washington Foundation promotes functional and economically prudent adaptive reuse of blighted or underutilized real estate while preserving the history of the community. Public education about local history is a tool HWF uses heavily to promote downtown as the center of local economic and cultural activity.
Downtown Washington, Inc., is an accredited Main Street program that has operated in the city for over 21 years. During that time, DW, Inc., has facilitated a number of restoration and preservation projects downtown, staying true to its mission: "To promote an attractive and financially stable downtown while preserving our historic resources and enriching the community.
Together, DW, Inc., and HWF work closely with the City and Washington Area Chamber of Commerce to recruit new businesses, preserve historic structures, and attract new patrons to enjoy the unique downtown experience.
In addition to moving their offices to this location, DW, Inc., received approval from the USPS for a contract postal unit to operate and staff the contract postal unit. The building is owned by the Foundation, while DW, Inc., will run the postal operation which will hire staff, most likely one full-time person and a part-time staffer in the beginning.
The citizens of Washington will see new and existing businesses in the renovated post office. With the Historic Washington Foundation and Downtown Washington, Inc,. overseeing the operation, the Old Main Post Office will continue to be an attractive, well-maintained building.
This project "will bring new jobs, contribute to the local economy and the support the city's tax base," says Hopp. "The additional revenue to the city will help produce good roads, police protection, and more mundane things like park benches and plantings. That is what the population will see and feel and enjoy."
Washington's Post Office initiative is about "impossible dreams becoming realities." Each successfully revitalized building and new business attracted to downtown acts as a catalyst for economic growth and has a positive effect on the quality of life for the entire community.