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St. Petersburg postmark to become a thing of the past

ST. PETERSBURG — In what some city leaders are calling a quiet blow to the city's identity, mail sent from here will soon lose the St. Petersburg postmark.

Instead, mail will be stamped with a postmark that either says "Tampa" or some other name reflecting the Tampa Bay region.

Mail sent from one address to another within the city could also take a day longer.

The changes will happen sometime after mid May, when the U.S. Postal Service begins a nationwide consolidation of mail processing and distribution centers. The St. Petersburg center, a 174,000-square-foot building at 3135 First Ave. N, as well as Lakeland's center, will be closing and moving their operations to the Tampa distribution center.

The St. Petersburg postmark will still exist for those who wish to have it on their outgoing mail, said Postal Service spokeswoman Enola Rice. But those folks must go to a St. Petersburg post office and request it at the counter. That mail will get postmarked at the local office and will bypass the postmark at the processing center near Tampa International Airport.

"We know for some people it's very important to have that local postmark, so that's why we're keeping it available for those who want it," Rice said.

Mail picked up in your mailbox or from a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or mail slot will get postmarked from the Tampa distribution center. A decision has not been made on whether that postmark will read "Tampa" or will bear some other name reflecting the region, Rice said. Still, the loss of the automatic St. Petersburg postmark will likely irk some.

The announcement came as news to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who said it was his understanding that the postmark would not change with the closure of the city's center.

"To me, it would be very important for the fourth-largest city in the fourth-largest state in the nation to have its city name on a postmark," Foster said. "It's not just ink on paper."

In a conversation months ago with Russ Racine, the postmaster assured Foster that the city would retain its postmark after the center closed, Foster said. The mayor tried to call the postmaster's office Thursday to discuss the issue but received no answer, he said.

Former Mayor Rick Baker said the post office made an agreement with the city three years ago to have the postmark read "Tampa - St. Petersburg."

In response to Thursday's announcement, Baker said: "That would be a betrayal of the commitment the post office made to us three years ago."

City Council member Jeff Danner said a Tampa or regional mark wouldn't be the same.

"While everyone understands consolidation and cost-cutting measures, you do lose part of your identity," Danner said. "People identify with cities, not regions."

Thursday's announcement to consolidate mail processing and distribution centers nationwide came after the Postal Service studied 211 centers and decided 183 of them should close to cut costs. A second study is taking place, looking at the possible closure of more centers.

No date was given for any of the closures, but they cannot happen before May 15, which was a date previously agreed upon to give Congress the opportunity to come up with an alternative plan. No such plan has been announced.

The Postal Service has seen a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006. It receives no tax dollars for its operations, relying instead on the sale of postage and postal products and services.

It was not immediately clear how many employees the St. Petersburg center closure would affect, though Rice said employees, most of whom belong to a union, would be offered other positions within 50 miles as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Postal officials said customers should expect their mail to take a little longer after the change. A first-class letter will likely take two or three days, instead of the one-to-three-day standard the existing delivery system was designed to meet.

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8452.

St. Petersburg postmark to become a thing of the past 02/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:39am]

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