By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
The combination of population growth in Johnson City and an expiring lease on a city-owned building across the street from the Johnson City Municipal and Safety Building will soon lead to the relocation of the post office at 530 E. Main Street.
Johnson City Assistant City Manager Randy Trivette told the News & Neighbor last Wednesday that a longstanding lease agreement between the city and the United States Postal Service is set to expire on Aug. 30, and the city has notified the Postal Service that it does not intend to renew the lease. Trivette added that an architect has been hired to do a needs assessment of the city’s administrative office space in order to determine whether construction of a new building at 530 E. Main Street might be in order to accommodate growth in several departments.
“We feel like 20 years from now, the city population could well be over 100,000, and with that growth, it requires more people (in city government),” Trivette said. It’s not like we’re trying to grow government. The city grows, and government has got to grow with it or we’re going to get left behind.”
City leaders first reached out to the United States Postal Service in August of 2021 to convey the city’s intention not to renew the lease, which has been in place since 1973. Trivette said the Postal Service did not respond until December of 2022 when the USPS expressed its desire to sit down and talk about redoing the lease. By that point, city leaders had already made a firm decision to look for a higher purpose for the property.
Trivette said the city is currently helping the USPS relocate the post office, adding that the city would prefer the new location to be in south Johnson City.
“We’ve had our economic development director (Alicia Summers) showing them spaces we know are empty or available for lease,” he said.
Meanwhile, the USPS has requested an extension beyond Aug. 30 in order to find a new location and complete the transition to the new facility while following federally mandated guidelines for notifying the public of the pending move.
Evelina Ramiriez of USPS Corporate Communications provided the News & Neighbor with the following statement: “As an integral part of the communities we serve, the U.S. Postal Service strives every day to provide excellent service to our valued customers. The Postal Service is continuing to actively explore viable options for another location, and customers will be notified, per our established guidelines, as the process evolves. We continue to offer the services our customers want and need at this location.”
Trivette said city attorneys are currently drafting a month-to-month agreement between the city and the USPS designed to take effect beyond Aug. 30. He said the agreement will have to be approved by the USPS as well as the City Commission.
In terms of future plans for the property at 530 E. Main Street, Trivette said the current building will not be suitable for office space due to its design and age.
“It would be more cost-effective to tear that building down and start from scratch, but that’s a good piece of property,” he said.
While the current Municipal and Safety Building is up to code and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Trivette said a building across the street could greatly improve access for citizens looking to pay their water or tax bills or attend a City Commission meeting. Trivette added that lines routinely stretch outside the current building during peak tax season.
“We’d like to make a better administration facility where the commission chambers are on the first floor,” he said.
The most recent city budget included an increased investment in public safety, which includes money to hire additional personnel in the police department and increase storage space. As a result, Trivette says the current Municipal and Safety Building could serve as the footprint for community safety if a new building is constructed across the street.
“What we would really like to do is maintain this as a public safety building,” he said. “We’d also look at moving the fire department’s administrative staff here. Their administrative offices are currently housed at Keystone.”
In addition to the police and fire departments, Trivette said the building codes and building inspection departments could remain in the current building while other departments such as purchasing, communications and marketing as well as cashiers who handle bill payments could all move across the street into a building that is more accessible to the public.
Of course, the needs assessment will need to be completed and presented to the City Commission before any decisions are made about the potential construction project.
“To get something to solve this problem is probably five or six years down the road, but it pays to start planning ahead of time so you don’t overlook anything and nothing falls through the cracks,” Trivette said.