The post office on the ground floor of Chelsea’s Google building is apparently safe from the tech giant’s forthcoming construction plans — for now.
But spokespeople for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the building’s management can’t seem to entirely agree on the information they’re releasing about the future of the post office.
Some local residents were taken aback recently, when they found a USPS notice posted at the ground floor entrance of the 76 Ninth Ave. post office, which stated that the office would “suspend operations on May 23” because Google — which bought the massive, 2.9-million-square-foot building in 2010 — would soon be “reclaiming the space” due to planned construction on the ground floor and throughout the 18-story building.
They weren’t the only ones who were caught off guard. Strangely enough, the notice apparently also came as news to officials from Taconic Management Company, which still manages the Google-owned building.
“We were as surprised as everyone else when they posted this notice saying they were going to be closing on May 23,” said Peter Febo, a Taconic representative who also serves as chief operation officer of the company’s investment division, in a May 22 phone interview.
“It was a mistake, based on incorrect information,” he said, adding that, “what [the USPS] posted was not what was actually going on.”
By the time this newspaper spoke with Febo on May 22, the USPS had, in fact, publicly acknowledged its error earlier that day and replaced the original notice with a new one, which stated that the office “will NOT suspend services” on May 23.
Responding to a question about the reason for that change, USPS spokesperson Connie Chirichello told Chelsea Now in a May 22 email that the new notice was released due to an official agreement — following completed negotiations — between the post office, Taconic and Google that had apparently saved the post office from closure throughout the forthcoming construction process.
But that was also not entirely accurate, according to Febo.
“It’s true that the post office is not leaving at this point, but those negotiations are still active, and I’m surprised [Chirichello] is speaking like that before the negotiations are complete,” said the Taconic rep.
Regarding the planned construction for the 76 Ninth Ave. building — which covers a full block on all sides, and which is also known as 111 Eighth Ave. — Febo declined to say when the work would begin, and also declined to provide any specific details. He stated only that Google has plans to “reconfigure the ground floor” and “reshape” other parts of the structure, as part of the company’s efforts to further cement the building as its East Coast headquarters.
Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
One of the architects on the series of forthcoming construction projects, HLW International, told this newspaper that Google had compelled the firm to sign a non-disclosure agreement that barred any public statements regarding the construction plans.
Meanwhile, the factual disagreements between the USPS and Taconic continued after May 22 into the following week.
Around 5 p.m. on May 27, Chirichello sent an official press release to this newspaper, which once again stated that, “an agreement was made between the building owner and the postal service which resulted in the preservation of the space currently occupied by the [76 Ninth Ave.] station as the continued quarters of the station.”
The release also stated that the whole situation came about because, earlier this year, the USPS was asked to vacate the premises after Google officials told the post office that they wanted to reclaim the space.
But less than 24 hours later, apparently after conferring with Taconic, Chirichello admitted that the release “may contain conflicting information” and asked that it none if its statements be used in this article.
“I am officially retracting the information,” she wrote to Chelsea Now in an email around 10 a.m. on May 28.
When this newspaper called Chirichello that day for further clarification of the retracted USPS statements, specifically regarding both the aforementioned “agreement” and the claims that Google directly asked the post office to vacate its space, she seemed uncertain.
“Well, this all makes me want to go back and double check things,” she said in the phone interview.
Chirichello ended that conversation by giving what she claimed was the most definitive statement she could make at that point — a statement which still left unanswered questions.
“The post office will continue to serve the community from its present location,” she said, although she added that the long term future of the post office “all depends on [Google’s] construction, and what construction needs they’ll have, which is out of our control.”
And it should be noted that, although he acknowledged — in his aforementioned correspondence with this newspaper — that there are currently no plans for the post office to vacate its space, Febo never definitively stated that he believes the post office will permanently remain on the ground floor of 76 Ninth Ave.