Snowmass post office downsizing considered in new redevelopment plan | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass post office downsizing considered in new redevelopment plan

Britta Gustafson
Special to the Snowmass Sun
Snowmass Post Office worker Jim Owens scans a package for Carlie Umbarger on Thursday afternoon.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun

DEVELOPMENT MOVES AHEAD, EYES OPTIONS

Snowmass Village Town Council's vote to permit Eastwood Snowmass Investors to move from sketch plan to preliminary plan submitted with the preliminary plan application.As part of the application, the plan must issue assurance that those businesses will be provided and maintained in the long term. Council specified the post office as one example of "community-based" commercial use.In an effort to fulfill their Sketch Plan approval conditions, Eastwood Snowmass Investors, who purchased the Center in 2016 for $16 million, have started to inquire into what the community would like to see in their postal facility as well as how to maintain operations and support the facility during construction.Currently the plan for the 38-year-old center building proposes to renovate the existing 50,000 square feet and expand with an additional 17,000 square feet of commercial space to the Center and neighboring Faraway Ranch North area, according to the project application."We are sensitive to the needs of folks in Snowmass who rely on the post office facility and we are hopeful that needed enhancements could also be added into the development," said Jordan Sarick, principal of Eastwood Snowmass Investors. "We will accommodate growth as needed and we would like to improve that facility as much as we can."

EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was published, the USPS realized they supplied the wrong information to the developer and were referencing the square footage for the post office in old Snowmass, not Snowmass Village. A USPS official said the new post office in Snowmass Village will be the same size or larger

Downsizing the Snowmass Village Post Office is under consideration by the rental procurement entity that leases facilities for the U.S. Postal Service and the current leaseholder for the Snowmass Post Office.

With a major renovation and addition to the Snowmass Center planned by the building owners Eastwood Snowmass Investors, Eastwood officials contacted the leasing company CBRE Group Inc. The preliminary recommendations include an option to considerably reduce the current space rented for the post office.

Jordan Sarick, principal of Eastwood Snowmass Investors, expressed surprise and concern regarding the possibility of downsizing the post office.

“We understand the importance of the facility for practical needs, and we also see it as a central place in the community,” Sarick said. “We approached CBRE to review our options with the post office, as we have some concerns of how to avoid issues for the operation during the remodel.

“One of the options we were presented was for a substantial reduction from the current 2,500-square-foot facility to a 900-square-foot facility. We were approaching this as an opportunity to enhance, not reduce the size.”

Many community members, including the facility’s lead clerk, have concerns about a smaller post office. If anything, most see a need to expand the number of P.O. boxes as well as the back-of-the-house space needed for handling an increase in parcels.

Snowmass Village’s head clerk Jim Owens has helped manage the Village post office since 1987. He believes the back and front of the house could use a facelift and the behind-the-scenes parcel storage space could use expansion and improvements in efficiency.

“I really don’t see how we could function with less space,” he said. “I don’t believe we could handle the parcel load, particularly during the three to four peak months out of the year, with anything less than the space we already have, if anything we could use more space.”

Speaking as a member of the community, council member Alyssa Shenk said the post office serves a necessary community service.

“It’s hard to be efficient if you don’t have the means and facility to support it,” Shank said. “The people who work there are part of our community and improvements to the facility are an essential part of making their job easier.”

However, with increasing financial losses and substantial cutbacks, the U.S. Postal Service is making nationwide adjustments, and the Snowmass Village facility is not immune to the downtrend.

USPS spokesman for Colorado David Rupert said the Snowmass branch has nearly 2,000 P.O. boxes.

“We are going to have to work in concert,” Rupert said. “Our parcel volume continues to grow locally, and across the nation as the ubiquity of online shopping increases. Conversely, our letter mail volume is dropping, which constitutes the bulk of our revenue. Because of this, our finances continue to be challenged and this impacts every decision we make.”

The workload at Snowmass is comparable to the main office in Aspen, according to Rupert. He said some people are unaware that Snowmass Village does not offer home delivery.

Owens and other staff agree that at certain times of the year the lack of adequate interior space can feel unsafe.

“It can be dangerous, with the amount of packages piled up behind the counter,” Owens said.

He said more than 15 years ago the current space was given a subtle refit, but he believes that the shelving space no longer satisfies the current demand.

No improvements have been made to the facility since the new era of online shopping emerged in the past decade, Owens said. He added that parcel handling has more than doubled in the past few years, in part due to Amazon Prime and other online stores.

“And because we don’t have street delivery here, and I can’t see that working either with half of the community gone half of the year, we often have to do the distribution for UPS and we are not set up for the amount of packages currently coming through this location,” Owens continued.

He said additional space for more P.O. boxes would be a welcome improvement.

“We do more hub-business than a lot of the other USPS operations in the Valley,” Owens said. “With 1,728 boxes, which are easily filled annually, and again without street delivery, we often have no choice but to turn people away.”

Currently, there are no post office boxes available for rent in Snowmass.

Beyond the functional shortcomings, Owens echoes community sentiments about the significance of the hub beyond the physical space.

“Even more, this is a gathering place, a neighborhood core, more socializing happens here than in any bar,” he said. “There is a fading art to customer service in this industry, and I see it coming to the end of an era. It’s a community thing and I feel strongly about maintaining that, and we still have it happening here in Snowmass.”

Speaking to the heart of the community experience at the Snowmass post office, long time resident and business owner George Gordon said it’s the people, not the location, who make the difference.

“I don’t dread the idea of the facility downsizing as much as I fear Jim’s retirement,” Gordon said of Owens. “Without Jim, I would imagine it will be a much less personal, less service-based operation.”

Mike Sura, who moved to Snowmass Village in 1977, was one of the original tenants at the Snowmass Center and opened the first restaurant, Mama Mia’s Pizza, at the location where The Bayou is today.

Sura said he enjoys collecting his mail at the post office, considering it an opportunity to connect with his neighbors and friends, calling it “the center of everything.”

Shenk is recused from the Snowmass center redevelopment review because her husband, Ben Genshaft, is involved with the project’s legal team.

She pointed out locals know how difficult it can be during the high season, and the lack of available boxes speaks to other concerns.

“With more development on the horizon, more online shopping behaviors and the potential for even more full-time residents, the necessity for efficient mail service will need to be met,” she said.

Kelly Freeman, who has lived in Snowmass on and off for the past 30 years, said recently while picking up her mail that downsizing would hurt the community, not help it.

“The lack of available boxes is already a huge problem for seasonal people, some are forced to share boxes,” she said. “ It’s a real problem for everyone.”

Because of its ease of access, convenient parking and its mix of local-serving retail, such as the grocery, dry cleaner, hardware and liquor stores, the Snowmass Center is essential for locals. The post office is an important element of that community-serving hub.

“With its owners preparing to redevelop the Snowmass Center, the town has a wonderful opportunity for this to become an active and attractive town center,” said Tom Fridstein, a community member since 1970. “We all hope that the Post Office will remain an important functional and social venue in the redevelopment.”


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