USPS pushing ahead with smaller Oak Creek project, but moving out of downtown is still an option

Fate of downtown facility still uncertain

The front entrance to the downtown Milwaukee U.S. Postal Service facility.

The U.S. Postal Service has told the city of Oak Creek it is plowing ahead with its plans to construct a 425,000-square-foot mail processing and distribution center, adding they may eventually expand the building to more than 800,000 square feet though they have no specific schedule in doing so.

USPS’s intentions have left city leaders frustrated by the limited public involvement in the project, and also brings into question when or if the service plans to move out of the its existing facility in downtown Milwaukee that’s being eyed for redevelopment.

A representative of USPS met with the Oak Creek staff on Friday to discuss the agency’s plans for the new facility, city administrator Andrew Vickers said in an email. He said USPS plans to begin moving dirt as early as Monday, Nov. 4.

The project is slated to finish in its entirety in March 2021, with partial completion set for November 2020.

The 425,000-square-foot facility will go up on a 69-acre site at the southeast corner of College and Pennsylvania avenues, replacing an existing 150,000-square-foot mail processing annex in Oak Creek that USPS leases.

The building could be expanded to around 800,000 square feet, though planning for that is not on the immediate horizon, Vickers said.

He added that USPS gave no indication on how the expansion would impact the downtown facility, which is located at 345 W. St. Paul Ave.

R2 Companies, a Chicago-based investor and developer, which owns the existing post office facility on 341 W. St. Paul Ave., in 2016 unveiled plans to dramatically redevelop the site. R2 sought to evict USPS from the building over maintenance issues but that lawsuit was recently dismissed. 

Documents filed recently with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicate a larger facility in Oak Creek would be used to consolidate all of USPS’s Milwaukee-area facilities. This would include the downtown facility, the one on South 10th Street in Oak Creek and a 49,000-square-foot warehouse facility on South Second Street in Milwaukee.

Those documents say the facility will total 824,000 square feet.

A USPS spokesman said in an email that the agency isn’t ruling out the possibility of building the larger facility, but didn’t provide further details.

The postal service has for years sought to construct a new, modern facility to serve the Milwaukee area. According to the DNR documents, USPS first began advertising for a site to build its new facility in 1998.

In 2008, it purchased land in Oak Creek with the intent to develop a new 820,000-square-foot facility. At the time, USPS announced the new building would replace the downtown facility, which was said to be obsolete. The project didn’t move forward.

Oak Creek officials said they’re concerned by the lack of opportunity for them to provide input, as well as the overall pace of the project. USPS first reached out to the city in July, indicating their plans to move forward with the facility.

Vickers said USPS awarded the project as a design-build contract, meaning “there are no current plans developed for what the building or site will look like.” USPS would share a schematic with the city as soon as possible, however.

“For the sake of being a good community partner, you’re going to be there a long time, we’re going to want to know the traffic impacts and other stuff,” Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz said.

Last week, Oak Creek’s Common Council passed a resolution requesting USPS work with the city to ensure the facility is built in accordance with standards agreed to in 2008. The city also request an opportunity for “meaningful public input into the design and operation of the city,” according to a staff report.

Vickers said USPS said it will look at the 2008 agreement as “reference,” but gave no indication it would going to abide by those agreements fully. What’s more, said Vickers, the agency is not planning to fund any new public infrastructure on College or Pennsylvania avenues as part of the project, a departure from the plans from a decade ago.

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