Post office bids sought U.S. Postal Service for third time seeks downtown contractor

Earlier proposals rejected

Local officials ask for criteria to help find possible sites

November 06, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Postal Service, which has twice rejected bids for a satellite post office in downtown Westminster, is soliciting proposals again.

Postal officials declined to say what they would consider a reasonable cost to contract with a vendor to provide limited retail services as a convenience to businesses and shoppers.

The Postal Service solicited bids for a satellite office -- to sell stamps and ship packages -- in December and in the summer. Both sets of responses were rejected as too expensive. The amounts of the bids was not disclosed.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan is working with U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes' staff to get the Postal Service to explain its criteria for hours of operation and staffing and an approximate cost for the satellite office.

"For years and years, we'd been promised that the post office would maintain a presence downtown and that they had put out requests for proposals earlier this year," Yowan said. "But we only heard by inquiries and word-of-mouth that the post office had rejected them all because they cost too much."

If the Postal Service would explain its criteria, Yowan said, city officials would help with the legwork.

"The city and Greater Westminster Development Corp. would volunteer to find some sites and turn them over to the post office," Yowan said.

Three months ago, the post office moved into a $2.7 million facility in Englar Business Park but continued to provide limited service in the historic building at 83 E. Main St. for another month.

The Postal Service closed the Main Street site Aug. 28, ending nearly 100 years of downtown mail service.

Main Street merchants say the departure of the downtown post office has reduced pedestrian traffic and hurt business.

Patty Keener, owner of Locust Antiques at 10 E. Main St., is launching a petition drive for a downtown postal center.

"It's such a wrong feeling that here you are in this nice little town and you have to cross this superhighway, and it becomes a major trip" to get to the post office, she said. "I'm not saying they shouldn't have one over there, but we need one here."

Keener said that although her business hasn't suffered, other Main Street merchants see fewer of the customers who walked to the post office, then stopped on the way back for a card, a bagel or a sandwich.

Main Street is unlikely to have limited postal service restored before Christmas or Hanukkah, said Helen Skillman, a Postal Service spokeswoman.

She said the Postal Service won't give prospective bidders a ballpark cost figure, despite the rejection of earlier bids.

"Postal Service policy is not to put a price range in our information packets," she said. "If the price is over what we consider equitable -- people know what it's going to cost to run this facility -- if they've gone overboard with that, how can we consider that [offer]?"

R. Douglas Mathias, Greater Westminster Development Corp. executive director, said the Postal Service recently sent representatives to talk with prospective bidders.

Bidders left wondering

"Cost is extremely important to them, obviously, since they've rejected businesses just on the basis of cost," he said.

Reviewers will also look at the suitability of location, whether the space is large enough and whether personnel are available to serve customers, Skillman said.

As a bidder, Lou Chang, co-owner of Ain't That A Frame at 31 W. Main St., found it difficult to get the Postal Service's specifications clarified.

"We had a hard time getting them to explain what they wanted" in the most recent round of solicitations, she said.

She and her husband, Andrew Chang, called postal officials from Baltimore to South Carolina to get information, filled out forms and submitted photos of their store. They later received a letter saying the bids were too high.

They accepted a Postal Service invitation to resubmit a bid about three weeks ago, she said.

35 businesses invited to bid

Skillman said she doesn't know whether Sarbanes' intercession prompted the Postal Service to solicit a third round of bids.

The agency is sending bid information to 35 Westminster business owners, she said, more than three times the 11 that were invited to bid in the previous round. She said the Postal Service is aware that Westminster customers "want that downtown presence."

Skillman said it will take 40 days to process the returned bids before the technical review begins. She was unable to say how long the technical review would take.

Pub Date: 11/06/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.