Posted by Leonard Steinberg on January 28th, 2012

As I look out of my window in the distance I see a large U. S. Post Office facility and it reminds me of the on-going debacle that is the Post Office. I speak on this subject from a real estate perspective living in an area (West Chelsea) that has witnessed a radical transition from an entirely commercial area (that died) to a mostly residential and art gallery neighborhood. Real-estate-wise this has happened here, in Soho, Tribeca and around the world. It’s called evolution, and some keep fighting it……especially the US Post Office.

The problem with the Post Office is it acts and thinks like a big government. So the first thing it wants to turn to is protecting exactly what it does, keep doing it the same way, but apply extreme austerity measures by cutting. The employees only focus on keeping their benefits and keep working in the exact same manner as before demanding that the rest of the country support this farce. Both are wrong. And they are an incredibly accurate reflection of what is happening in our country politically as well as what happens in real estate…..until smarter people step in to change things.

In Soho, artists moved into mostly abandoned buildings where the wholesale textile industry used to thrive. When the industry died, so too did the neighborhood. Big scale developers were not interested because the land in Soho is not the best for building huge, hideous structures as it does not have the best bedrock for this type of construction. So artists moved in, upgraded the buildings to somewhat liveable….then came the restaurants and retail, and all of a sudden it was cool to live in a loft. So rich bankers bought lofts from the artists (making many of them very rich), renovated them, and within a few years Soho became a very high end residential real estate environment. But of course, government could not keep up, and still wants to enforce a program (A.I.R.) to protect the environment as an artist’s studio environment…..while collecting significantly higher real estate taxes from the new inhabitants. Another perfect example of government fighting evolution. Just like the post office.

Real estate is the most visible form of evolution in my mind…..seeing the speed of transformation of entire neighborhood uses is pretty astounding. And it works best when government and commerce work together as is witnessed now in the Hudson Yards, West Chelsea and the Financial District. Its smart government (raising real estate tax collection, encouraging transactional taxes, higher employment, etc) AND smart commerce (construction profits, rental incomes, tax breaks, etc).

Now back to the Post Office: the world has changed! We don’t mail as many letters as we used to. Federal Express ships boxes better than you and with much less attitude (lets face it:  a trip to the post office used to be about being annoyed and insulted by rude, lazy, slow staff). We send e-mails. We send e-vites instead of mailed invitations. Now instead of ONLY focusing on cuts or preserving history, maybe its time for the Post office to re-invent itself. Here are some ideas:

1) Look closely at Federal Express and UPS: both have grown dramatically as the world evolved into ordering massive volumes of product on line, efficiently, cost effectively and with a friendly demeanor.

2) What other tasks could the post office perform, knowing that much of its real estate is located in PRIME locations in the hearts of most communities: how could they provide one-stop shopping for mail, stationery, coffee, tech supplies?  If Duane Reade can sell sandwiches, what else can the Post Office sell?

3) Could the post office forge strategic partnerships with on-line retailers?

4) What about selling/leasing the roof real estate of all their locations for solar + wind farms? Replacing the light poles on top of their facility in West Chelsea with wind turbines could provide lighting for the roof as well as pay the electric bill.

5)  What about all the post office vans becoming driving billboards advertising things besides the POST OFFICE? Or advertising all the new services they are introducing to the world?

Frankly I see ALL the opportunity for the post office in their real estate: yes, they have to trim costs and make their methods and staff more efficient. But more importantly they need to EVOLVE and re-invent their role in our society. Lets not forget: Apple was never a phone manufacturer a few years ago. Now just a few years later, it dominates the market.

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