Anyone who attended Thursday’s meeting at the Boca Raton Community Center Annex would have left wondering how the mail gets delivered at all.
Officials of the U.S. Postal Service called the meeting to discuss the downtown post office, across Second Avenue from Mizner Park. The agency notified the city in February that it might move the facility but keep it downtown. The less the USPS said the more residents who use the facility suspected that the agency actually wants to close it.
Thursday’s meeting was supposed to answer questions and provide reassurance. Not even close.
The agency handout set the wrong tone from the start. Why did USPS representatives hold the meeting? Because they had to, under federal law.
Damian Salazar, a USPS real estate specialist, claimed that the problem is the proposed lease. Investments Limited owns the 0.65-acre site, having bought in August 2013 for $4.2 million. Salazar claimed that the Postal Service wants a 10-year lease with three- and five-year renewal options. Investments Limited had offered a three-year renewal. The current lease expires July 13.
Yet Salazar acknowledged that the Postal Service had received the lease in September. So why had the agency delayed long enough to cause a potential crisis? A 30-day public comment period ends April 29. The lease runs out less than two months after that.
Salazar offered no good explanation, even when asked directly. He said something about another real estate person who is in San Francisco. For a Florida matter? Though about a dozen other USPS officials accompanied Salazar, they apparently all work in operations, not real estate. For the most part, they sat there like useless props as Salazar offered non-answers and further irritated the crowd by referring to Camino Real as “Camino Reel.”
Councilman Scott Singer asked Salazar if he could “confirm” that the agency wants to keep a facility in downtown Boca Raton. The Postal Service would leave downtown, Salazar said, only “if nothing is available.” The agency supposedly wants half of its current space—about 8,000 square feet—although Salazar said all services would remain. Investments Limited has other downtown sites.
Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke asked if the agency would consider a temporary lease while negotiations continue? Salazar “would look at that.” Again, though, why did the negotiations stop for months?
Salazar lost the room after 10 minutes. His comments were inconsistent and contradictory. Investments Limited co-owner Jim Batmasian rose to propose an “olive branch”—a four-year deal. Having claimed that the Postal Service wanted only 10-year deals, Salazar then declared himself “not opposed” to a four-year deal. After offering no information about the delay in lease negotiations, Salazar said, “I will be doing this lease.”
After 75 minutes, Mayor Susan Haynie declared a technical knockout by the residents of Salazar and stopped the meeting. She said the city would provide contact information for all USPS officials involved in the decision.
The agency will hear overwhelming if not unanimous comment to keep the current location or a nearby alternative. One member of the standing-room-only crowd called the downtown facility a community “heartbeat.” Business owners spoke of their need for downtown Post Office boxes, saying the facility on Palmetto Park Road east of Interstate 95 is too far away.
But what about the lease? Investments Limited representative Robert Eisen told the Boca Magazine on Monday that he has “been involved” with the property since 2006 when the late Greg Talbott owned it. In that time, Eisen said, “We have never done anything more than three- or five-year extensions. I don’t know why this should be different. A 10-year lease is a very serious undertaking.”
Salazar and Investment Limited’s leasing manager are supposed to meet today. Haynie and the council members want to deliver on this issue for residents, but they only can advocate and try to intervene. Boca Raton wants answers from what appeared on Thursday to be a dysfunctional, clueless bureaucracy.