Norwich officials attempt to keep post office from leaving downtown

Norwich - A vibrant downtown in the region's largest city with businesses mailing packages, immigrants needing passports to visit relatives and thousands of residents living without cars needs a full-service post office, city leaders told a Postal Service official Friday in the first step to fight the plan to move the post office to the postal distribution center on Route 82.

"For all intents and purposes, for the residents of the city, you're putting it in Bozrah," City Manager Alan Bergren told James A. Hickey Jr., a Postal Service real estate specialist.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, Alderwoman Laurie Glenney-Popovich, Bergren and Gene Tewksbury, field representative from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney's Norwich office, met for an hour with Hickey at City Hall to learn the process for fighting the decision to remove the post office from downtown.

The U.S. Postal Service announced in February its plan - already approved internally - to sell the Main Street Post Office building. Once a buyer is found, the Postal Service would close and move the Norwich facility to the postal distribution center on Route 82 at the Bozrah town line.

The distribution center is far from any population base and is not on a commuter bus line, Bergren said. He argued that it is a disservice to Norwich residents and business owners who now walk to the Post Office.

Bergren and Tewksbury asked if the Postal Service considered new U.S. Census figures that show Norwich grew by 12 percent to become the largest city in southeastern Connecticut. Hickey said the study leading up to the plan was done last year, before the new Census.

"There are a number of people in this area who walk into that post office and are not going to be able to walk the 3.2 miles to the new location," Tewksbury said. "I understand your position. I'm asking a people question."

Tewksbury said that Courtney is "very interested in the outcome" of the Norwich Post Office.

Nystrom said repeatedly that city officials do not object to closing the obsolete 33,000-square-foot existing facility. He even knows of one potential buyer. But downtown needs a retail storefront post office, he said.

Norwich might not get a full hearing on their arguments. Because the Postal Service considered it merely a transition from one Norwich facility into another, the city was not given any input or a public hearing ahead of time on the decision. The city at least could request a hearing on the plan to sell the current building, Hickey said, and Nystrom said he will request that hearing.

The building could be placed on the market within the next 60 days, Hickey said. He is obtaining appraisals on its value now to set a sale price.

Hickey said a second option for downtown would be a so-called contract postal unit, a small station run by a private business owner to sell stamps and hold post office boxes. But such a station could not offer passport services or accept packages - services Bergren argued are needed downtown.

Nystrom said if it comes to that option, he knows of three downtown entities interested in operating a postal station.

Scheduling a hearing on selling the post office building must wait at least a week, Hickey said.

The Postal Service next Friday will announce a major nationwide restructuring with some 7,500 job cuts. The restructuring could affect the departments that oversee the Norwich decision.

c.bessette@theday.com

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