By Sabina Mollot
For the past few weeks, Stuyvesant Town residents as well as those who live on the south side of 14th Street have been swapping stories about what is likely to become of the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office once its lease expires next year, with condo towers and NYU dorms topping the list of possibilities.
And on Monday, around 100 people, mostly seniors who live nearby as well as around half a dozen postal employees, aired their concerns and fears at a town hall meeting held at the Campos Plaza Community Center.
At the meeting, which was hosted by Community Boards 3 and 6 and Council Members Rosie Mendez and Dan Garodnick, a handful of reps from the United States Postal Service also showed up. Among them were Joseph Mulvey, who handles “facilities implementation,” some regional reps and the manager of the Peter Stuyvesant station. However, Mulvey was the only one who addressed the crowd to speak or to answer questions.
Ignoring some heckling, Mulvey told the audience that the USPS already had a possible replacement location for the post office, 333 East 14th Street. That address was last occupied by a Duane Reade store that is now around the corner on First Avenue. It is also significantly smaller than the current post office, which is consistent with what the USPS has said it is aiming to do agency-wide, which is downsize certain existing stations. For the new station, the USPS is looking for a retail space that’s 5,000-6,000 square feet.
Mulvey said the new space would be used for customer services only while mail sorting and the location’s mail carriers would be rerouted to the Madison Square Post Office on East 23rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. The new location would not have as many mailboxes as the current one, but according to Mulvey, they wouldn’t be needed since at Peter Stuyvesant, only three fourths of the boxes are rented out.
Customers of the post office seemed to disagree though and, while balancing on canes for support in numerous cases, said they didn’t understand why the USPS was closing such a busy station, one with lines that frequently spill out the door. Their arguments were echoed by postal workers from Peter Stuyvesant as well as other post offices who blasted the USPS for not keeping employees in the loop about their plans and also for treating the proposed move as if it were a done deal.
While the USPS’s lease is set to expire in February, 2014, the employees called out the agency’s administration for choosing to leave.
Though the USPS has said the decision to leave came after it tried and failed to reach an agreement with the owner, a rep for Benenson Capital Partners, which represents the owner, told the employees — and Town & Village recently — that leaving was the USPS’s idea because it wanted less space. A few employees, including a couple of reps for the union that represents postal employees, even accused the agency of methodically closing and consolidating stations in an effort to fail and eventually go private.
“When you say the lease wasn’t renewed, that’s a lie,” said Jonathan Smith, the president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. “It’s about big money.”
He noted how the USPS was also in the process of trying to close a post office in Chelsea and other one near the Triboro Bridge. Unlike Peter Stuyvesant, those two are owned by the USPS. “The other buildings you own,” said Smith. “How could a facility be cheaper than (when you are) owning it?”
Though Mulvey didn’t respond to the accusation about privatization at the meeting, a USPS regional spokesperson who was present at the event later denied this.
“That could not be further from the truth,” said Congetta Chirichello. “The postal service is committed to keeping alive the mission of providing universal service to the American people into the future and keeping the postal service viable for generations to come.”
At the Campos Plaza Community Center, the USPS distributed flyers and requested the public’s input on the plan, including what services they’d like to see at the new station. However, the running theme in the comments made at the microphone seemed to be: Just keep it where it is.
“This is going to create a real hardship for the seniors,” said Mendez, shortly before the meeting began.
Garodnick added that he wanted to be certain that before the post office closes, a new one would be already open and ready to serve customers.
“The services must have continuity,” he said.
Mulvey meanwhile, whose job it is to speak to the public about planned “facility actions” in the New York/New Jersey area, said suggestions were encouraged and “welcome.”
Still, he warned, the post office is “obligated to quit and surrender the premises” when the lease is up. It was this February, he said, when the process began of browsing around for a new location and alerting local elected officials about the planned closure.
“I stressed to them the urgency that we get moving because moving a post office is not an easy task,” said Mulvey. “In the meantime, we have kept our finger on the pulse of the market.”
In the event the 333 East 14th address between First and Second Avenues doesn’t work out, Mulvey said there are other spaces on 14th Street within one tenth of a mile of the Peter Stuyvesant station that the USPS is eyeing as well.
Though it didn’t deter anyone, those who soon got up to speak at the podium had to do so over the rattling and banging sounds coming from the community center’s HVAC system.
One woman, Diane Greenberg, who lives in a building on East 13th Street, said her husband is 91 and, “He certainly can’t go to any other facility,” and that as a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering, she “certainly can’t” either.
A few other neighborhood residents said they wondered if the post office on East 14th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A was being targeted instead of another station on East 11th Street and Fourth Avenue, because there were more low income tenants and fewer market rent paying ones in Stuyvesant Town and nearby NYCHA developments.
Stuyvesant Town resident Audrey Levine, who’s blind, said she relies on the post office for pickups and
dropoffs of books in Braille, which, she noted “are kind of heavy,” as well as a mailbox she checks regularly for a music-related nonprofit she runs.
“When I get out of the train and First and 14th, I first go to the post office,” she said. “So to find another building is going to be a pain for me.”
Another Stuy Town resident, Beverly Abisogun, said the station “needs to be expanded,” not relocated. “Anybody who uses it regularly knows that.”
She also said she agreed with statements postal employees had made, blaming the USPS’s financial hardships not on a decline in mail, as the agency’s claimed, but a law that was passed in 2006. The law forces the USPS to fund its employee pensions 75 years into the future, costing it $5.5 billion a year.
“The problem started with what Congress did,” said Abisogun. “We need to find a new strategy because it’s like musical chairs and more and more of the chairs are being removed.”
Another critic of the plan was Diane Jackson, a retired postal employee who’d worked at the Peter Stuyvesant post office for 23 years.
“It needs to remain exactly where it is,” she said.
She went on to say that a statement previously made by the USPS, which is that it would find an alternative location somewhere in the 10009 zip code, didn’t take into an account that many customers at Peter Stuyvesant come from other zip codes as well as 10009 such as 10002 (the Lower East Side) and 10010 (Peter Cooper Village).
“Do you think the people in Stuyvesant Town and next to it in Peter Cooper Village go to Madison Square? No, they go to Peter Stuyvesant,” she said.
A Stuyvesant Town resident named David Cook made a similar point when he questioned the USPS reps.
“Do you bureaucrats realize a move to 23rd Street is much more burdensome for people who walk than for people who drive?” he asked. “It might not be such a big deal in Podunk, but here it’s a big deal.”
A couple of union reps acknowledged complaints about the post office, including those made at the meeting about long lines and lost parcels, by predicting problems would only get worse with the move.
But according to one resident of Campos Plaza, they already have. Though she didn’t speak at the meeting since she didn’t know she had to sign up first, Campos Plaza Tenants Association President DeReese Huff later said she’s seen a sharp decline in postal services over the past couple of weeks and is wondering if the post office’s employees are making a statement. In one case, a woman in the complex got another woman’s hearing aid in the mail, even though they live in different buildings. While she said she shared the employees’ frustrations, “They’re taking it out on the wrong people.”
The meeting was also attended by Council Member Jessica Lappin, who’s running for borough president and is chair of the Council’s Aging Committee. Reps for State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney were also there.
Maloney, who wasn’t at the meeting, told T&V that she was against the law that forces the USPS to fund its pension plans so far into the future. She also said she’d asked the USPS if she could see the financials on the Peter Stuyvesant station, but was refused.
“I know it’s making money, and if it’s making money, why close it?” she said. “In (this) neighborhood, around Stuyvesant Town, there’s no guarantee putting it in another location is going to save money.”
Maloney and several other local elected officials sent a letter on Friday to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe requesting a meeting.
Following the town hall, when asked if all the testimony from customers and employees would impact the USPS’s decision to relocate, Chirichello said the public comments would be reviewed before any decision is made.
On the issue of Peter Stuyvesant station being a busy and likely a profitable station, Chirichello said, “Retail business is good. However, moving to a smaller space so we do not have to maintain the excess space is a good business decision as well. And in the case of Peter Stuy, one potential relocation site is around the corner from the present post office. If we did move forward, the new state of the art post office will continue to provide the same services as now by the same friendly employees customers have come to know by name.”
She also responded to a question from T&V asking about one rumor swirling around which is that the USPS had an option to buy the Peter Stuyvesant station.
“As of late, buying the building which has more space than is needed for retail and post office box operations space to accommodate customers needs would not help the postal service regain financial stability. The financial crisis the postal service is faced with is dire. We are reviewing every opportunity to close the gaps in order to save money.”
Public comments are being accepted through May 7. Written testimony that’s submitted must reference the post office by name or location, the USPS said, and be sent to Joseph J. Mulvey, Facilities Implementation, U.S. Postal Service, 2 Congress Street, Room 8, Milford, MA, 01757-9998.