Post Haste

downtown Eau Claire’s post office will relocate, create development opportunity

Emily Anderson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Enjoying a constant influx of citizenry, Eau Claire’s post office will need to find a new home within the year. Its current location stands to spur some interesting development.
Enjoying a constant influx of citizenry, Eau Claire’s post office will need to find a new home within the year. Its current location stands to spur some interesting development.

For more than 30 years, the Eau Claire Post Office has been located at 126 N Barstow St. in downtown Eau Claire. But now, with its lease expiring in September 2012, the post office is looking to relocate. While your immediate concern may be for what this means for locals’ mail, the nationally struggling organization, and downtown traffic, the silver lining is the new and exciting opportunities this situation creates for redevelopment and a better community overall.

The office’s current building, which is owned by Gateway Industrial Park Corporation, has approximately 27,000 square feet. Based on its present operations, they will be looking for a location that gives them 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. According to Postmaster Kim Leith, there was once a time when this branch of the United States Postal Service needed all that space. Decades ago, the distribution and processing components of the post office were located at the downtown location, but about a decade ago distribution and processing were moved to their current location in Hallie. Now, the downtown branch is a retail center that sells stamps, priority boxes, etc. and is where all Eau Claire PO Boxes are located. A smaller building at a new location will be just big enough to accommodate its activities.

Ideally, the post office would stay in the downtown area, said City Economic Development Director Mike Schatz. Historically, downtown is the traditional location for a post office and Eau Claire’s brings a lot of traffic to the downtown on a regular basis (thus bringing visitors who spend money at other downtown spots).

At least two developers have come forward with plans for a new post office in the undeveloped block next door (between Galloway and Wisconsin streets on North Barstow), Schatz said, one being John Mogensen and the other an un-named party. The plan would be a mixed-use building (following the Phoenix Park Neighborhood trend) with the post office in a ground floor retail space. Other proposals have been for the post office to move into existing, vacant buildings. But, ultimately, post office officials have said they will bring any proposals in this relocation decision process to the city council for input.

As far as the current building and lot are concerned, once the post office moves, there are many options for the space. Royal Credit Union (RCU), whose corporate headquarters is adjacent to the current post office, has an option to purchase both the building and the lot if they choose. RCU has indicated an interest in exercising the option and would most likely use the area to address present and future parking needs. But it’s possible that part of the lot could also be used for a new building on Barstow, and the parking infrastructure in back.

Another plan for the area, originally created by Michael Lander and Geoff Moeding and supported by the city and Redevelopment Authority, includes extending Galloway Street through to Riverfront Terrace. This would allow the creation of two more residential buildings, which Stuart Schaefer (of Commonweal Development and Riverfront Terrace, LLC) has voiced interest in creating in addition to the two he’s in the process of building right now. One drawback to the plan is that the extension of Galloway would cut right through a portion of RCU’s current parking lot.

Schatz said that the RDA and City of Eau Claire are hoping to meet with Gateway, RCU, and Schaefer and hopefully create a plan that accommodates the needs and interests of all parties involved. Ultimately, they’re going to fight for a win-win solution that keeps the post office downtown, allows redevelopment at the current site, extends Galloway Street, and possibly adds a new building to Phoenix Park.

Interested landowners and landlords have until early February to submit proposals to the postal service.