USPS Preps For Old Chelsea Station Temporary Relocation
BY DENNIS LYNCH | The US Postal Service (USPS) plans to temporarily relocate its operations at the Old Chelsea Station (OCS) on W. 18th St. — possibly less than 1,000 feet away, to 143 W. 19th St. — while a developer builds a condominium space atop OCS, according to a letter the agency sent to local leaders.
The USPS could not comment on the actual request for proposals (RFP) the USPS put out in 2015 for the sale of the air rights that would allow the condo, because the RFP won’t close until April 1, said USPS spokesperson Xavier Hernandez, who added that the relocation site has not been set in stone just yet. In a March 15 email to Chelsea Now, Hernandez noted that no final decision has been made about the restoration of OCS, and that any restoration “would be part of discussions between the Postal Service and the proposed developer.”
The USPS plans to share more details of construction and the temporary relocation at the Mon., April 17 meeting of Community Board 4’s Chelsea Land Use Committee (6:30 p.m. at 353 W. 30th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.), which is open to the public. After the April 17 presentation, there will be a period of public comment (at least 30 days), according to USPS Realty Asset Manager Gregory C. Lackey.
So far the close proximity of the temporary site to OCS has been well-received by the community, according to Bill Borock, the president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations as well as president of the 100 West 19/20 Street Block Association (their area of coverage includes the proposed temporary site).
“The community is happy in that sense. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would think everyone’s happy it’s close by and that the 18th Street station is being kept,” Borock said.
A USPS representative shared details of the plan with Borock, who told the representative there were some concerns about increased noise and exhaust brought on by postal trucks, along with the loss of parking spots. The representative told him residents of the building on W. 19th St. where the temporary post office will be located were involved in the negotiations for its use, and said that trucks would visit the temporary site five or six times a day and stay there for 15 minutes at a time. Construction on OCS may take up to three years, the representative told Borock.
The street has “been a source of contention” with traffic and noise issues “for years,” Borock said, mostly because of trucks delivering goods to Metropolitan Pavilion’s loading dock. There’s also a fire station and planned construction across W. 19th St., which could compound congestion. A representative for the 143 W. 19th St. building did not return a request for comment.
The USPS put out the request for a condo after fierce community opposition to the agency’s 2013 plan to permanently relocate services from the 80-year-old building and sell it to a developer to demolish and replace. The USPS does not utilize all of the building and couldn’t afford to stay there with electronic communications putting the squeeze on revenue, reps said.
But locals didn’t want to see the two-story, red brick Colonial Revival post office go, and they petitioned local, state, and federal elected officials to fight the plan. They won that fight by the end of 2013, and two years later the USPS put out the RFP to sell the post office’s air rights.
At the time, State Senator Brad Hoylman said the USPS acknowledged that “selling the Old Chelsea Station and leasing new space elsewhere in the city simply doesn’t make sense.”
The nearly 42,000 square-foot structure was built in 1937 and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The listed architects are Eric Kebbon and Paul Fiene, according to the National Register. Fiene is responsible for the two bas-reliefs in the lobby locals have cited as particularly important to preserve.
The federal government hired the Woodstock, New York-based sculptor to do the bas-reliefs as part of New Deal economic stimulus spending. The two panels (called “Deer” and “Bear”) depict natural scenes and are covered in silver leaf.
A USPS representative said in 2015 that 5,000-6,000 square feet of the existing building would be converted for condo use, and word of a gym or other amenity has floated around. The RFP allows for just over 59,000 square feet of residential space in eight stories above the existing post office.