Sale of downtown Annapolis post office building will end era ... eventually

Since 1901, Annapolis residents and downtown workers have been dropping off letters and buying stamps at the brick Georgian Revival-style post office on Church Circle.

But not for much longer.

A vote by the state's Board of Public Works on Wednesday seals the eventual fate of the post office. The state is buying the office for $3.2 million, with eventual plans to use the building for government offices.

"The state saw an opportunity to retain the historic value of the building, particularly because it's in the footprint of other state-owned facilities. It just made sense for this building to be included," said Michael Gaines, assistant secretary for real estate with the state's Department of General Services.

For the near future, the post office will remain open, officials said.

The U.S. Postal Service will be able to keep its retail operation going for eight to 20 months by leasing a portion of the building from the state, under the terms of the sale.

Postal Service spokeswoman Freda Sauter said that until the sale is finalized, there's no information on any replacement location in downtown.

"It will be business as usual at the Annapolis post office until all details have been finalized," she said.

Even when the Church Circle location eventually closes, there won't be any effect on mail delivery in the Annapolis area, Sauter said.

The state plans to renovate and expand the building, more than doubling its size to 30,000 feet, Gaines said. The expansion would be on the rear of the building and atop the current parking lot. Parking could be included in the new structure, he said.

The building would be used primarily by government tenants, but private tenants might be able to lease space as well, Gaines said. He does not expect the Postal Service to be a long-term tenant.

Detailed plans for the renovation haven't been drawn up yet, and there's no estimate of how much the expansion would cost, Gaines said.

The 13,000-square-foot building sits next to the James Senate Office building in the downtown government complex around the State House.

In 2006, a developer proposed converting the post office to condominiums, but the deal never worked out.

Unlike many more utilitarian post offices, walking into the Church Circle facility is like stepping back in time.

"The building is beautiful — it's a landmark," said Margriet Mitchell, president of Weitzman Agency, an advertising firm that lies across the street from the post office. "It's very convenient for businesses and also for visitors to the city."

The 21/2-story brick structure was built in 1901 and is listed on the Maryland Historical Trust's inventory of historic properties.

Expanded in 1926 and 1939, it's "an outstanding example of the academic classicism of the period, as applied to a public facility," according to the Maryland Historical Trust.

The historical listing notes unusual details of the building, including its cupola, stone cornice, carved stone swags on the facade and quoins, which are masonry blocks at the corners. It also highlights the interior's heavy oak paneling and "richly carved woodwork."

"I think the state is smart in buying the building. It's a jewel," said Judi Herrmann, founder and president of Herrmann Advertising Branding Technology. Herrmann and her staff frequently walk over from their West Street office to use the post office.

Herrmann said she'll miss the convenience of having a post office nearby if the Postal Service doesn't open a new location downtown.

"For all of downtown to lose a post office, that just means more people in their cars," she said.

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