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Annex an option for post office move

Richard Hancock speaks to the Hendersonville City Council about post office move. Richard Hancock speaks to the Hendersonville City Council about post office move.

The U.S. Postal Service is looking for an existing building to move into when it relocates next year from the Fifth Avenue West facility it’s occupied for the past 50 years. Although he said he is looking near downtown, the postal service’s real estate specialist did not rule out converting part of the post office annex on Francis Road for public counter service.

“We’re looking for an pre-existing building,” Richard Hancock, the real estate specialist from Greensboro, told a handful of postal users Thursday night at City Hall. “I don’t want to do a development. I don’t want a construction nightmare.”
A woman who identified herself as a postal worker said she had heard the postal service plans to convert the Francis Road annex.
While Hancock assured her that no decision had been made, “there will be a design” of the annex as one of the options. “We’ll take it into consideration. As a real estate specialist I have to look at all options.”
The range of land he’s looking at extends from Fifth Avenue to I-26 and south to Spartanburg Highway.
“Finding 40-plus parking spaces and getting elbow room is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “You’ve got traffic volume, you’ve got post office boxes. You’ve got to have flow.”
The post office hasnegotiated a lease extension to stay at its 427 Fifth Avenue West location until October 2017. Larry Hinkle, the owner of the 50-year-old building on Fifth Avenue, said the post office only recently contacted him about staying one more year in the building.
“The post office had a 20-year lease and then they had six 5-year options,” he said. “So the lease ran for 50 years. Oct. 1 was their 50th year.”
Hinkle expected the lease to run out.
“Then we got a call from them two months ago saying, ‘Would you please extend this lease for us. We’re in a difficult situation. We don’t have facility (to move to) at this time.’ We gave them a year extension for them to continue to rent that post office,” he said.
The post office has been consolidating mail processing into regional hubs serving larger areas. A year ago, the USPS closed its Asheville distribution center and moved the sorting to its Greenville, S.C., facility. More of the work that had been done on Fifth Avenue is not done at the annex on Frances Road.
“They basically were using this facility just for the mailboxes and to serve the downtown area with the counter space,” Hinkle said. “They’re saying we don’t need such a large facility anymore. We want to go to a smaller one.”
Hinkle said the lease agreement never has been that lucrative because it started low and was constrained by the contract terms.
“I’ll just say this lease was negotiated 50 years ago,” he said. “Fifty years ago they were getting a bargain. They were paying pennies a square foot. There was an escalator in the contract that said every five years the rent would go up $1,000 per year, which isn’t much.”
As the last lease extension was running out, Hinkle and his wife, Elizabeth, approached their church, First Baptist, about a sale.
“They were very interested in it because they had received notice that the city was interested in building a hotel in that Dogwood parking lot,” Hinkle said. “So they were very interested in the building. Basically we went and got an appraisal” and negotiated a sale at what he described as “a very reasonable price.”
First Baptist will then hold the lease and collect the rent. Hinkle said the post office also agreed to a condition of the lease extension making the post office responsible for maintenance and repairs of the building, which is known to have problems. “They agreed to that,” he said.
Church members voted to approve the sale, which is scheduled to close this week, said church administrator Steve Briggs.
First Baptist needs 700-800 parking spaces for its 11 o’clock service on Sunday mornings, he said. It already uses the post office for parking, under an agreement with the postal service. The church has similar agreements with the county school system’s central office and about four businesses. If the city recruited a developer to build a hotel on the Dogwood lot, that would further reduce parking for the church.
When the post office moves out in the fall of 2017, the church plans to bulldoze the 50-year-old building and make a parking lot, Briggs said.