The City of Plant City officially closed on the former post office on Reynolds Street. Though still in initial assessments it appears the building can be saved and repurposed for city use.
The cherished former post office in the heart of downtown has long been an eyesore for residents as it slowly fell into disrepair. After a tumultuous battle the City of Plant City has successfully purchased the property.The city closed on the former post office located at the corner of Reynolds and Thomas Street at the end of December.
The iconic facility was built in 1935 and renovated in 1961. For years it sat vacant with a tarp on one end of the roof and a much-desired parking lot collecting dust.
When the city first reached out to purchase the property it was expecting to face a few normal hurdles along the way. However, a major roadblock appeared near-impassible and McDaniel had to call in back-up to help clear up the convoluted mess.
When one buys a property they have to do the routine title work to locate the proper titles for the real estate. The two title companies, two law firms and the city attorney found themselves facing a unique problem. The city was being told the parking lot adjacent to the building was not a part of the post office, but rather owned by private citizens.
Everyone knew that couldn’t be the case, but no one could find evidence to prove it wrong. McDaniel eventually went to Shelby Bender, president and executive director of the East Hillsborough Historical Society. They began to dig into old records, searching for any document that could indicate the parking lot was a part of the former post office.
They found pieces of the puzzle, but not enough to map out the full photo until Bender stumbled upon a record in Tampa. A man who once owned property at the corner of Reynolds and Thomas Street had that property taken by the government under the claim of eminent domain.
He fought it with a lawsuit from 1961 to 1964 and while he did technically lose the case he was awarded much more money for the loss. Somehow that action wasn’t recorded. But with the solving puzzle piece in hand, Bender was able to help the city prove the properties were all under the same ownership.
“Because of that detective work that Shelby did we were able to find all those records…and we were able to give that to the title company who then did their work and they were able to get the title cleared up,” McDaniel said. “Then we were able to finish the negations with the post office. It got into other things like they issue a quick claim deed in normal circumstances and the city attorney and everybody else including their title company wanted a special warranty deed. So we had a big debate about that for a while. There were quite a few interesting hurdles as we went along.”
McDaniel said the prospects are looking favorable for the city being able to save the building rather than having to demolish it and start over. A cursory assessment was done when the city was deciding whether it was a sound investment or not and another more in-depth look was had Friday during an additional assessment.
“It’s not without its issues, but it’s very solid,” McDaniel said. “The issues we are facing appear to be all very solid and addressable.”
The former owner told the city the roof was leaking — hence the tarp — but luckily when a roofing inspector came out they found the roof was solid and it was merely clogged pipes that were causing the leaks. A major bullet dodged the city was now able to take a realistic look at other issues like asbestos and some lead paint
There’s a long road ahead, but McDaniel wants to “freeze the property in time” so it remains as it is and doesn’t fall into disrepair as the city slowly puts things in place for the transition.
City crews have already begun cleaning up the outside of the property and soon the parking lot will get a full rehabilitation so it can be used by the general public, especially those going to church across the street or shows at Plant City Entertainment.
Eventually McDaniel said the city plans to make the building an annex of city hall. The utility department where residents pay bills, the permitting operations, application for city jobs and almost every other public interaction role will find a home in the renovated building.
“Number one, we’re getting cramped for space here and this would greatly extend the usability of the current city hall as far as space goes,” McDaniel said. “That would free up one whole corner, a huge portion of the second floor and it would then make things more easily accessible for the public. You don’t have to come in and ride the elevator and figure out where to go. You can just walk in the door and every one of those services are right in front of you. I also think there’s enough room over there to put a training room or a community meeting room.”
McDaniel asked the post office to leave some of the iconic old structures in place so the city can pay homage to the building’s history. They gutted the majority of the facility, but did leave some of the old antique post office boxes with dial locks, which McDaniel said will be repurposed for the new departments.
Once all the assessments for the building are complete the city will begin creating a funding plan. This won’t be turned around anytime soon, but McDaniel expects to see some traction during the next budget cycle.
As long as the assessments hold true McDaniel said a building official estimated that while it would cost between $6 million and $7 million to rebuild a facility similar to the former post office it should only take approximately $2.5 million to $3 million to renovate it.