Update on the Historic Post Office in Downtown Northfield, MN

SONY DSCIt’s been a while since the NDDC, as part of the Save Our Post Office group, has shared an update on the work to save our 1936 WPA-constructed Collegiate Gothic style post office.  There have been some interesting twists in recent months.

As most of you are aware, in March of 2011 the USPS notified the Northfield City Council that they were putting the historic post office in downtown Northfield up for sale.  The City Council-initiated Save Our Post Office (SOPO) group, through on-site interviews and distributed surveys, determined that the closing of the downtown postal facility would have an adverse economic impact on the downtown, where 72% of the businesses in the community are located.

The City of Northfield offered the USPS a long-term, low cost lease in return for a community-friendly acquisition price.  The United States Postal Service (USPS) responded with a proposal that the City of Northfield pay $2 to 3 million for the installation of postal boxes on the corners of blocks throughout the community, ending home delivery, in return for keeping the downtown postal facility in operations.  When the City declined that offer, the USPS put the property on the market.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) a reasonable opportunity to comment.  The ACHP works with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to develop a Mitigation Plan to address the potential adverse impacts of such undertakings.  The USPS attempted to pursue their own version of the Section 106 process.

In January of this year, the U. S. Congress inserted a suspension of the sales of historic post offices in the omnibus spending bill.  Congress noted that communities all across the country have accused the USPS of ignoring the federal preservation guidelines in Section 106.  The USPS removed the “for sale” sign from the still-operating historic Northfield post office.

The ACHP is gathering input from communities around the country until April 1st.  Northfield’s Heritage Preservation Commission, the Northfield Historical Society, and the NDDC have all submitted letters.  The goal is to have the USPS follow federal regulations and work with the affected communities to develop Mitigation Plans to address adverse impacts.