Now make Norwich Post Office viable

It should certainly come as a relief to downtown merchants and Norwich city officials alike that the United States Postal Service has reversed course and plans to keep its office on Main Street open.

While no numbers were provided, a news release issued by Dave Mastroianni, Connecticut Valley district manager for the Postal Service, said the decision not to close and relocate is a fiscal one. Factoring in construction costs for a new post office and the difficulty of selling the current building, postal authorities decided the best option was to stay put.

It came as a surprise victory for new Mayor Deberey Hinchey. She and other Norwich officials had concluded the closing was inevitable and that the best they could hope for was to fight to keep a full service office somewhere in the vicinity of the downtown.

Mayor Hinchey had planned to meet today with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and representatives of the postal service to discuss her concerns that Norwich faced the prospect of having no post office in the center of the city. To provide the administration some leverage, the City Council recently voted to appeal the closing decision.

There was good reason for seeing the Postal Service's exit from its 1905 building at 340 Main St. as certain. In February 2011, the Postal Service announced its plans to sell the building. In December 2012 the building went up for sale. Then just last month the agency announced it was moving forward with the relocation.

Then came Tuesday's surprise reversal.

The initial decision to move made sense. While the building is a beautiful example of the grandeur of public building architecture typical of the early 20th century, it is costly to maintain, larger than necessary and has disability access issues.

However, for the city it was a troubling development. In a recent meeting with The Day's Editorial Board, Mayor Hinchey expressed concern about the prospects of having several large buildings in that section of the downtown vacant, all of them difficult to find a reuse for. Across the street from the post office is the vacant former YMCA and nearby on the same side of Main Street is the empty former Elks Club building.

Despite its problems, the existing Norwich Post Office is a hub of activity. Its absence would have left quite a void and damaged prospects of downtown revitalization. Most troubling were the plans of the Postal Service to relocate the post office to the outskirts of town - to the mail distribution center on Route 82 near the Bozrah town line. Postal authorities were willing to commit to no more than a storefront operation, offering minimal services, in the downtown.

With the decision made to keep the current office open comes the challenge to address the problems that almost closed it. Rep. Courtney, who said he was pleased with the decision, could play an instrumental role in trying to find the federal funds for repairs and improvements. The city, utilizing its downtown revitalization grant and loan program, can work with the Postal Service in finding commercial tenants to supply the revenues necessary for the building's upkeep.

A proactive approach to making this building - listed on the National Register of Historic Places - viable once again could be the best way of discouraging the Postal Service from revisiting the closing proposal again in the future.

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