Firm finds homes for the Postal Service


Wherever Dawn Bowman is, she makes it a point to check out the local post office.

She notices the brickwork, the landscaping, the parking lot and numerous other details.

Ms. Bowman's fascination with post offices can be explained by the fact that she's in charge of post office construction for Frall Developers in Mount Airy.

The company, which owns 126 post offices in 11 states, has carved a niche for itself by building post offices and leasing them to the U.S. Postal Service.

"I can spot a flag at 20 paces," said Ms. Bowman, a vice president of Frall Developers.

The company owns post offices in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Frall began construction last week on the new Lisbon post office in Howard County. In Carroll, the Woodbine and Keymar post offices are Frall projects.

Of the 35,000 post offices across the United States, 29,000 are leased facilities, Ms. Bowman said.

"From what I've seen, it's a better deal for the Postal Service," she said. "It's very hard to predict the growth in a particular area, and leasing gives more flexibility to do an expansion or relocate if needed."

The Postal Service finds this arrangement convenient because it doesn't have the money to purchase each post office, said Jack Stone Jr., a property manager with the Postal Service's Facilities Service Office in Columbia.

Frall Developers first became a landlord for the Postal Service in the mid-1970s, when the Woodbine post office leased a space from Frall in a shopping center owned by the company, Ms. Bowman said.

At that time, Frall's main business was residential development. However, Frall's president, James Frey, became interested in developing post offices and the company secured contracts to build some local facilities. One of the firm's earliest projects was the Glenwood post office in Howard County.

"We became more and more intrigued with the whole process, and began looking for new post offices to be constructed," Ms. Bowman said.

Now Frall divides its business equally between residential and -- commercial development, which includes convenience stores in addition to post offices. The company also repairs and renovates existing post offices.

Frall generally becomes involved in the development of a new post office when the Postal Service advertises in newspapers that it needs to build a new facility.

For the new Mount Airy post office, the Postal Service selected a site at the northwest corner of Route 27 and Park Avenue, which is owned by Frall Developers. Once the necessary approvals are in place, the Postal Service will advertise for a builder to construct the new post office.

The property is under review by Mount Airy's Planning and Zoning Commission and state agencies.

The Mount Airy post office's storefront site in the Mount Airy Shopping Center has become too small to handle Mount Airy's mail volume.

In the 11 years she's been with Frall, Ms. Bowman has become adept at dealing with the Postal Service. "The government and all its agencies are in a continual state of flux," she said. "The way you did something a year ago isn't necessarily the way it's going to be now." Ms. Bowman says her work "requires a lot of patience, attention to detail and flexibility."

Lately, the pace of post office construction has been picking up after a two-year moratorium on all new projects.

Ms. Bowman said that when Marvin Runyon became postmaster general in 1992, he ordered a review of all new post office construction.

"Finally, we're seeing certain urgent projects come back to life," she said.

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