Officials upset at delay in closing Clearwater Beach post office

CLEARWATER — The U.S. Postal Service's 11th-hour request to keep its Clearwater Beach post office open into May is hitting resistance from city leaders who are ready to see it leave.

Last month, less than a week after the ailing agency announced the beach post office would shut down on Jan. 20, a Congress-supported moratorium paused any post office closures until May 15.

Postal officials said they wanted to keep open the decades-old office, which serves 9,000 addresses, at the city-owned Clearwater Beach Marina.

But Clearwater officials looking to sign a new tenant for the space say the Postal Service has yet to offer terms to renegotiate their lease. They add that other businesses are open to moving in with a higher rent.

The post office's contract with the city expired in September, and officials granted the post office an extension through January at cheaper rent. The USPS then asked for free rent, a bid that was quickly rejected.

Now, as nearly a dozen prospective tenants seek to move in and pay market-rate rent for the 3,200-square-feet waterfront space, the city stands to lose money from any post office delay.

"I can't just sit here and tread water," harbormaster Bill Morris said. "I've got folks willing to pay money on the space."

The Postal Service, spokeswoman Enola Rice said, was waiting for the city to help renegotiate the lease. But City Manager Bill Horne said the USPS has routinely refused to offer up any terms, perhaps because of the agency's nationwide financial uncertainty.

"If you say you're going to negotiate with us, then negotiate," Horne said. "They're trying to transfer that limbo status to us. That doesn't work for us."

Postal officials discussed the moratorium at a public meeting Tuesday at City Hall, and the City Council likely will discuss the beach post office at a work session Monday morning.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said few, if any, terms would change his mind about the doomed office's future.

"Closure of the beach post office is inevitable," Hibbard said. "I just can't understand continuing to prolong the pain."

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

Officials upset at delay in closing Clearwater Beach post office 01/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 7:44pm]

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