Published December 16. 2012 4:00AM
One reassurance I heard in the U.S. Postal Service's recent notices about putting the New London post office building up for sale is that it would not be left vacant in the event no buyer comes forward.
Christine Dugas, a postal service spokeswoman, repeated this promise when we spoke last week.
Actually, it is a two-part promise.
The postal service won't leave the building empty, and they won't sell it unless there is another, smaller retail space in the city to move the post office to, Dugas said.
The Masonic Street post office is a magnificent building, from its handsome stone and brick exterior to the art deco interior and Depression-era lobby murals depicting the city's glory days of whaling.
There is good reason it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Still, the building is an ark, a giant sop of maintenance attention and money. The upper office floors are largely empty. And there is considerable interior damage on those upper floors from what appears to be extensive water leaks.
The building sits on a huge lot, what must be one of the bigger downtown parcels.
So, really, who would buy an enormous, albeit beautiful, largely empty office building in a downtown full of enormous, largely unrented office buildings?
It is a white elephant in a city with a herd of white elephants, many of them also for sale.
And so, I thought, the postal service, if they are good for their word, will never be able to sell the Masonic Street building and will, however reluctantly, retain its historic use, as the city's post office.
I know the postal service is hitting the revenue wall with shrinking mail volume. But it seems like the federal government would be good for the cost of keeping this iconic downtown building open and intact.
And if they need to consolidate mail sorting in the region, how about closing the bland building in Waterford and moving that operation to New London, instead of the other way around, as they are suggesting?
But just as I was getting comfortable with Dugas' assurances that the postal service won't close the New London building unless a buyer materializes, I learned that the city itself has expressed an interest in buying it.
Kristin Clarke, director of the city's Office of Development and Planning, confirmed Friday, when I called to ask, that she did indeed call the postal service earlier this month to express the city's possible interest in buying the Masonic Street post office.
Clarke said she couldn't recall where the idea of possibly buying the building originated from, but she said it was part of a general discussion of how the city might eventually reorganize its offices. She said she told the postal service the city might be able to help it relocate its retail postal office elsewhere in the city.
"It's something that has been kicked around as an idea," she said. "The idea we had was that it is across from City Hall, and the city has a lot of offices spread through the downtown, so we thought maybe we could consolidate things."
She said the idea has not developed beyond her phone call to the postal service, expressing the city's general interest.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Savings Institute Bank & Trust of Willimantic officially moved out of the ground space in the Masonic Street building next to the post office that is owned by the city.
Clarke said she doesn't know what's planned for the space that had been leased by the bank, but she said moving the post office there has been discussed.
Clarke said no decisions about moving forward with any of this have been made, which was reassuring, kind of.
She noted, too, that the postal service has not even set a price for its Masonic Street building.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Friday the congressman stands by his pledge to make sure the public has a chance to be heard in the event the postal service makes a decision to move the New London post office.
That's reassuring, too.
The last thing New London needs is to get sucked into responsibility for a big abandoned property, one that has been neglected over the years, by a larger government that has many more resources to deal with it.
Just ask people in Preston about how taking the Norwich Hospital property off the state's hands has worked out.
This is the opinion of David Collins.