The United States Postal Service (USPS) is still in the process of divesting itself of the 464,000-square-foot, three-story former United States Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center at 2535 Midway Drive in Loma Portal, said Ken Boyd, USPS facilities and customer relations manager.
“It’s listed for sale for a period closing sometime in February,” said Boyd. “Any offers we get will be evaluated and we’ll move from there.”
Melanie Nickel, chairwoman of the Midway Community Planning Advisory Group (MCPAG), said the group has discussed the Midway postal facility several times previously, knowing the property has been offered for sale by the federal government.
“We heard two or three presentations by prospective buyers, none of whom actually wound up purchasing the place,” Nickel said, adding there are several community concerns about the property’s ultimate disposition.
“We are very concerned about the traffic impacts of development,” Nickel said. “Any large development would make the already awful traffic situation at Midway [Drive] and Rosecrans [Street] even worse. Some kind of street infrastructure improvements will definitely be needed and will, hopefully, be one of the things the city requires from the developer.”
“We suspect that re-using the existing building will not be part of the plans of most developers, although it does have the advantage that it is more than 30 feet in height,” said Nickel. “Any replacement buildings will have to adhere to the city height limit in the area.”
There is one thing the Midway neighborhood appears certain about when it comes to Midway postal site redevelopment.
“We do not want to see a big-box retail store surrounded by an asphalt parking lot there,” said Nickel. “The Midway area already has more than enough of that kind of project. And besides, the traffic impact of something like that would be unsustainable.”
The MCPAG has discussed the possibility of a mixed-use development (smaller retail combined with housing), or some sort of office park on the Midway postal site, according to Nickel.
“We heard a suggestion for senior housing at the site and we are very supportive of that idea, if it is feasible,” Nickel said.
Nickel said any future redevelopment “should include some public space, possibly a historic plaza or historic park recognizing the site as Dutch Flats, where Lindbergh first tested his plane, the Spirit of Saint Louis.”
“It would be nice to see the property become a park or other public facility, but let’s be realistic,” said Nickel. “The federal government is selling the property, not giving it away. They want the full appraised value for it.”
Once the central mail-processing facility for all of San Diego County, Boyd said the Midway facility, built in 1979, had become too small for that purpose by the early 1990s. Mail processing was then moved 20 miles north to the Margaret L. Sellers Processing Center on Rancho Carmel Drive, which opened in 1993. Mail for the 15 ZIP codes served by the Midway Post Office has since been returned from Rancho Carmel, pre-sorted for carriers to pick up and deliver.
Prime real estate located just minutes from Interstates 8 and 5 and San Diego International Airport, the Midway facility is near the landmark Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
The Midway postal facility itself is in the middle of a historic area known as Dutch Flats. Dutch Flats was the name of a small dirt airstrip in the early 1900s used by Ryan Aeronautical Company near what is now Midway Drive and Barnett Street.
Dutch Flats became famous when Ryan built a specially designed aircraft for Charles A. Lindbergh, who tested it there before flying it solo across the Atlantic in 1927. Several existing historic plaques inside Midway Post Office commemorate Dutch Flats and Lindbergh. Nickel said the Midway Community Planning Advisory Group believes the Dutch Flats/Lindbergh plaques should be retained in any redevelopment of the Midway Postal site.
This isn’t the first time the USPS has tried to sell its Midway site. In 2010, the USPS teamed up with CB Ellis Real Estate to sell the property, then estimated to be worth about $62.5 million.
Amikas, a local nonprofit group, came forward with a bid to use the land as a self-sustained homeless center, a proposal which never bore fruit. The site was also rumored to have been considered for a Costco store, but that never came to pass and the property was taken off the market.
The Midway postal site consists of 15.6 acres of land with two existing buildings and about 350 parking spaces. The two buildings include the old mail processing facility, a three-story, 436,000-square-foot building; and a former vehicle maintenance facility, a 22,000-square-foot single-story building.
Onsite zoning accommodates a range of industrial and manufacturing activities to promote a balanced land use and economy, and to encourage employment growth, according to USPS officials. The industrial zones are intended to provide flexibility in the design of new and redeveloped industrial projects while assuring high-quality development, and to protect land for industrial uses and limit non-industrial uses.
The site could be also redeveloped to provide space for a science and business park.
“The property development standards of this zone are intended to create a campus-like environment characterized by comprehensive site design and substantial landscaping, allowing a mix of light industrial and office uses,” according to the sales listing on the website www.uspspropertiesforsale.com.
A LOOK AT SAN DIEGO’S POSTAL HISTORY
San Diego’s main post office and mail-processing facility wasn’t always located on Midway Drive and has had many homes throughout the city’s history.
• 1850: The first post office is established in San Diego at the northeast corner of the Old Town Plaza at Mason and Calhoun streets. San Diego has a population of 650 at this time.
• April 9, 1850: Richard Rust is appointed the first postmaster of San Diego. All citizens pick up their mail at the post office.
• April 6, 1869: Dr. Jacob Allen becomes postmaster of the “New Town” Post Office, located in a drug store on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and F Street.
• Dec. 23, 1869: Freeman Gates became postmaster of San Diego and opens the post office in the Dunham Building on F Street between F and G streets. San Diego has a population of 2,300 at this time.
• 1876: Space in the San Diego Union Building at Sixth Avenue and F Street is used as the main post office.
• 1885: The first transcontinental train arrives in San Diego, bringing mail from the East Coast. San Diego’s population is now 35,000.
• Oct. 3, 1887: The letter-carrier system of free delivery is inaugurated in San Diego. Four of the first carriers were Joseph E. Coulthrust, Charles E. Lamb, B.E. Hinman and Jerome V. Scofield.
• Oct. 18, 1887: San Diego letter carriers receive uniforms.
• 1888: The Brewster Hotel, located at the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and C Street, rents space to the post office.
• 1890: San Diego post office moves to a new five-story St. James Hotel on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and F Street.
• 1913: The first facility built for the sole purpose of being a post office in San Diego is finished and located at 325 West F St.
• 1938: The main post office moves to Sixth Avenue and E Street in downtown San Diego.
• Aug. 19, 1972: The Midway Processing and Distribution Center opens at 2535 Midway Drive as San Diego’s main post office.
• 1993: The Carmel Mountain Ranch processing facility opens at 1251 Rancho Carmel Drive.
• 2006: The USPS experiences a significant drop in mail volume. The change is attributed to a faltering economy and increased use of technology for bill paying and communication.
• 2010: The USPS lists the Midway Post Office for sale and then takes it off the market when no viable buyer comes forward.
• Dec. 5, 2011: The USPS announces it needs to consolidate operations by 2015 to save $20 billion. The Midway Post Office is among 252 facilities nationwide eyed for closure.
• 2011: San Diego’s population is 1.3 million.
— Source: U.S. Postal Service