Lawrence's downtown post office would move into a portion of the former Riverfront Mall to make way for a new library, under a plan proposed by local postal leaders.
Judy Raney, Lawrence postmaster, confirmed Friday that she had sent a request to executives in the Postal Service's regional Denver office asking them to consider the mall space as a future postal site.
"It would keep us in the downtown area, and I think everyone agrees that is very important," Raney said.
But Raney said she had no timeline on when postal officials in Denver would make a decision on whether to pursue a three-block move to the Riverfront, which is at Sixth and New Hampshire streets.
Talk of the post office moving from its location at Seventh and Vermont streets has been ongoing since November, when the city's library board recommended that city commissioners pursue a development plan by members of the Fritzel family. The plan calls for building a $30 million library on the postal site, and would include about $100 million worth of private redevelopment on Vermont Street during a 10-year period.
Decision needed soon
Dan Simons, who leads the ownership group of the former mall building, also confirmed that talks with the Postal Service were under way. Simons - president of the Electronics Division of The World Company, which owns the Journal-World and Sunflower Broadband - said the proposal calls for the public portion of the post office to move into about 4,000 square feet of space in the eastern end of the building. The space would be on the top level of the building, which is the level that is directly accessible from the surface parking lot that is shared with the SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
The distribution portion of the post office would be in about 15,000 square feet of space on the ground floor of the eastern end of the building. The post office also would use the parking lot directly east of the building to store its postal trucks.
"It seems to work out very nicely," Simons said.
But a decision on the project is needed soon, Simons said, because there are alternative plans the ownership group could pursue for the eastern end of the building.
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The post office space would include the area that the LEO Center, a nonprofit Christian ministry organization, occupies. Simons said it would be important to make sure the LEO Center was not left without a home.
"Everybody wants to continue the good work of the LEO Center and help it find a place that is more than adequate for its needs," Simons said.
Simons also said there had been discussions that the retail portion of the post office would be moved to the Riverfront building on a temporary basis. Simons said there was a thought that the retail portion could move into a new location on Vermont Street after the corridor was redeveloped. He said the Riverfront ownership group would be amenable to that.
But Raney, the postmaster, said she wasn't sure that was a feasible option because that would mean the distribution operations and the retail operations would be split.
"If you separate those functions, it would require more people to do the job," Raney said. "Keeping it all under one roof keeps the costs down and provides for better service because you have less transporting of mail back and forth."
City to discuss proposal
The post office discussions come at a time when city commissioners still are trying to decide whether to move forward on the library project. Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the library board's recommendation at their Tuesday evening meeting.
Commissioners have previously received the library board's recommendation and taken no action on it. As part of Tuesday's meeting, city staff members have compiled a memo outlining answers to several questions that they've received from the public.
Former Mayor David Dunfield - who also is an architect with Lawrence-based GLPM Architects, which worked on a competing library proposal not chosen by the library board - submitted several questions for commissioners to answer. He said he wasn't against the site, but thought that the specifics of the Fritzel proposal - such as how much it would cost the city to acquire the postal site - should be defined before the city considers the deal.
"It looks to me like we don't know enough about how all these issues will play out to make a commitment on the site," Dunfield said.
City Manager David Corliss, though, said the city was proceeding under the assumption that the total costs of the library - land costs included - would not be more than $30 million. Commissioners generally have agreed that they would put the library issue to a public vote.
"I think the commission has enough information to judge the proposals," Corliss said. "What the commission is going to need to do is prioritize all the different capital projects and that is what we have been doing. I think it is likely that if the library project proceeds it will be because the commission sees that the voters want to approve that type of project as a high priority for the community."