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Clearwater Beach post office appears likely to close

The U.S. Post Office at 45 Causeway Blvd. on Clearwater Beach is on a list of U.S. Postal Service facilities that could be closed.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

The U.S. Post Office at 45 Causeway Blvd. on Clearwater Beach is on a list of U.S. Postal Service facilities that could be closed.

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Beach post office appears headed for closure despite pleas from the public and a last-minute bid for survival.

The decades-old post office, which serves about 9,000 local addresses, was one of 3,700 listed this summer on the U.S. Postal Service's chopping block.

The Postal Service will announce the beach office's fate by the end of the year, spokeswoman Enola Rice said. Postal officials conducted a meeting Tuesday at City Hall to get public input that Rice said could help with the decision.

But a Postal Service contractor says the beach branch's demise is already a done deal. And city officials point to the sudden end of negotiations for the branch's rent as evidence of an imminent shutdown.

The post office rents a third of the ground floor of the city-owned Clearwater Beach Marina. This summer, Dallas-based real estate specialist John Logan asked to renew the Postal Service's lease there with a four-month extension for cheaper rent.

City officials agreed, even though the drop in rent — from $42,000 a year to $38,000 a year — meant the city would earn about half what the waterfront property would earn at a market rate.

Then the Postal Service asked for another rent cut: This time, all of it. "They're moving off the beach," harbormaster Bill Morris recalled Logan saying, "unless the city gives them free rent."

Asking the city to subsidize the Postal Service would have carved a big chunk from the city's tight budget. It also would have turned away a dozen prospective tenants, including offices and restaurants, that had asked Morris about renting the 3,200 square feet if the post office left.

Ultimately, the cost didn't kill the idea — Logan did. In an email earlier this month to Morris, Logan abruptly dropped his idea and wrote, "We don't need to pursue this any further."

Reached via phone this week, Logan said, "We were getting to the point where we might get to free or reduced rent, when (Postal Service) operations decided they weren't going to leave it open."

Postal Service officials insisted to the dozen residents who appeared at Tuesday's meeting that their decision was not yet finalized. Several people said the move would disrupt tourists and would subject beach residents to longer drives and mainland traffic. The downtown post office is across Clearwater Harbor from the beach.

"We are an island," said Suzanne Boschen, a beach motel owner who uses the beach branch to mail jewelry for her eBay business. "If you're on Clearwater Beach and the bridge is packed with spring breakers, honey, you're not going anywhere."

Council member Paul Gibson, discussing the post office last week, also said he worried about the loss of the beach's home branch. Saying the branch was "already telling customers they have two feet out the door," Gibson told the council, "If we do nothing, they're gone."

No other council members seemed interested, however, in going so far as to grant free rent. Vice Mayor George Cretekos said the city's "responsibility is not to bail out the U.S. Postal Service." Mayor Frank Hibbard, considering the other offers for market-rate leases, said, "Let's make some money."

The Postal Service, which receives no tax dollars, has been gutted in recent years by the rise of email and online communication. Last week, it announced it had logged a record loss of more than $5 billion in 2011.

If the beach branch closes, officials said, mail and the beach's 400 rented post office boxes would be redirected to the downtown post office on Cleveland Street. Mail service would not be affected.

Though some on the beach have bemoaned the loss, one man with a post office box on the beach since 1983 said he was unfazed: City Council member John Doran.

"Am I attached to it?" Doran said. "No. It's just a post office box."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

Clearwater Beach post office appears likely to close 11/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 6:00pm]

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