It seems to be a matter of when, not if, as to closing the Beach Post Office.
There are about 12,000 residents who live on Clearwater Beach, Sand Key and Island Estates, and about 10 of them came out for a special meeting with Postal Service officials and the public Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the future of keeping the Post Office at the marina.
“I doubt we're swaying you at all when 10 of us show up” said Rob Cole, who owns a business on the beach and spends about $600 weekly in postage. “We probably need to look at it from your viewpoint. The basic idea is to save money.”
While Postal Service officials stressed that no decision has yet been made about closing the station at the beach, unless rent is offered for free, the station is likely to close.
Junk mail is the cornerstone of the nearly $50-billion a year business, but with reduced sales in postage and delivery, the Postal Service is losing money, said Paul Bernicchi, who works in the Postal Service Suncoast district office.
About 603,000 pieces of mail were delivered from the Beach Post Office in 2008. That number was reduced to about 506,000 in 2010, Bernicchi said.
Melodie VanAsdale, a 12-year beach resident, was concerned what a potential closing would mean for tourists.
“They’re there for vacation, they do mail things home,” she said.
And the closing would effect her eBay business.
VanAsdale said she mails at least three packages weekly. To go off the island would add difficulty during spring break and other peak times of year when traffic is at a virtual standstill from downtown to the roundabout.
“To go off the island is a hardship especially certain times a year,” VanAsdale said. “A lot more than the five minutes it takes now.”
But it might have to do more with money than convenience. A recent market rental rate survey for the city concluded that the rental space on the first floor of the marina is in the $18 to $25 range, according to the analysis made by K. Mitchell Caldwell.
The survey compared 13 coastal retail properties from Dunedin to St. Pete Beach. The survey found that most of the marina rent was at market value with some exception.
The Post Office, considered a Federal lease, is already paying below market rate, but to continue at the location officials are asking for terms that include free rent, said harbormaster Bill Morris during a special discussion about the Post Office at the city council meeting Nov. 15.
“The bottom line for the Post Office is unless we give them something for free, get someone to step up to the plate or the city builds out the space, they are planning on leaving,” Morris said.
Morris said the post office already is paying a reduced rate of just more than $12 a square foot for about 2,300 square feet of ground floor space at the marina. The four-month extension is based on paying about $30,000 a year, Morris said.
“I’m not in favor of no rent,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “Let’s make some money... and get some parking back.”
Morris also said there is an option to keep the post office boxes at the marina, but the sorting facility would move to the Post Office on Cleveland Street. About 400 of the 641 post office boxes are rented at the beach, including one to council member John Doran since 1983.
"Am I attached to it?" Doran said. "No, it is just a Post Office Box."
If the Post Office moved, it would open up about 3,200 square feet, Morris said. Twelve parties have requested use of the space, and three would pay market rent.
Already, restaurateur Frank Chivas signed a contract to lease the second floor of the Marina Oct. 25, according to city records. Chivas already has nine second-floor units taking up about 2,317 square feet.
Chivas, owner of Baystar Restaurant Group, which owns restaurants including , and Salt Rock Grill, would be looking to open another restaurant in the space, according to city records.
The three-year lease is worth $2,585 a month plus 8 percent of alcohol sales that are more than $10,000, according to city documents. The market rent survey considered second floor “as is” restaurant space at about $12 a square foot.
“He’s paying the existing rent on the first set of suites,” Morris said. “And when/if the Post Office moves and Harbormaster moves downstairs (Frank Chivas) would pick up those other three spaces and common area.”
Chivas would be looking at a renovated space, including a deck area overlooking the marina and , of nearly 7,000 square feet.
Chivas did not answer questions in a phone call or email regarding what his plans are at the marina.