After years of uncertainty, the Northfield Post Office is off the market until further notice following a declaration from Congress stopping the sale of all post office buildings until further review.
Northfield’s brick-block post office was built in 1936 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the USPS moved its distribution of mail to an annex in an industrial park south of Northfield years ago, customer service functions remained at the post office and people continued to visit the building.
The USPS declared its intention to sell the post office in 2010, while local and national groups started working to preserve the building and its services.
The “Save Our Post Office” group was started to find ways to preserve the building, and the City Council offered to buy the building for $1 and offer a long-term, low-cost lease to the USPS for continuing downtown service. The USPS countered with the suggestion that the city pay $2-3 million to put post office boxes on neighborhood street corners and eliminate house-to-house delivery. City councilors resisted this idea, stressing the need for a central location and the preservation of a historic building on a historic district.
According to Keith Covey, one of the lead organizers of the Save Our Post Office group, the city of Northfield tried several times to work with the USPS and come up with a mutually beneficial solution, but the USPS didn’t answer letters after its suggestion of corner post boxes was rejected. Instead, it went ahead with its plans to sell the building, putting it on the market in March 2011. The asking price for the building was set around $800,000. Though a few local businesses and individuals expressed interest, no offer was high enough to be accepted.
While it seemed certain the USPS would sell the building, the situation changed in late 2013. Residents in Berkeley, California, were facing the potential loss of their post office, and they formed a grassroots group to resist the sale. Through their work, they found that the USPS wasn’t following Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties and to allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation time to respond.
While the USPS had offered to put a clause in the purchase agreement that would require the building’s protection, the ACHP insisted this was insufficient and convinced Congress to declare a moratorium halting all sales until the USPS followed requirements to create a mitigation plan that tries to address the adverse impacts of closing downtown post offices.
Because of this, the USPS was forced to take the Northfield Post Office off the market in January.
Staff liaison Michelle Merxbauer said the ACHP requested letters from communities dealing with these issues in the hopes of gathering information and presenting the findings to Congress at the end of this month. The Northfield Historical Preservation Commission, Northfield Historical Society and Northfield Downtown Development Corporation all wrote letters.
The ACHP presented its report to Congress in April and Congress determined that all historic post office buildings be removed from the market until further review. As of now, the Northfield Post Office is not for sale and will remain open for business as usual.
However, Covey warned that this doesn’t mean the issue is finished.
“We haven’t seen the last of this and other proposals by the Postal Service to reduce costs, and few if any of them will be easy for us, as postal customers, to accept,” he said.
Councilor Suzie Nakasian, who has worked with Minnesota senators and representatives to save the building, said the future is still uncertain.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen there,” she said. “Until they put it on the market, we can’t do anything. At the meantime, a lot of people are thinking of the highest and best use of the facility if it becomes available, and we’re making sure to do everything we can to make the post office comply with the proper processes. There’s been a lot of community discussion. It really is an anchor for the downtown district.”