Negotiations between the U.S. Postal Service and The Inn at Little Washington are reported to be focused on keeping the post office in the same building at Main and Middle streets that the Inn has leased to the postal facility for more than 25 years.
Since confirmed by spokespersons for the Inn and the postal service, that report first came from Washington Mayor John Sullivan, speaking Monday night at what turned out to be a town council nonmeeting.
(Hoping to meet its quorum requirement of four — so that it could appoint a seventh town council member to replace Dan Spethmann, who resigned last month — the council found itself down to three: Sullivan, Mary Ann Kuhn and Katherine Leggett. Patrick O’Connell was out of town, Jerry Goebel was driving a Quiz Bowl team to a competition, and Gary Schwartz fell sick at the last moment. The council meeting has been rescheduled for Monday, Dec. 15.)
Tom Samra, the USPS’s vice president for facilities, said Tuesday that what is going on is simply a lease renegotiation — that the postal service has neither plans nor the intention to downsize or move the Washington facility out of the town.
Samra said the facility’s five-year lease, signed in 2008 after an initial 20-year lease, expired in July of this year, and that the Inn agreed to extend the lease for only a year, through July 2015, although he said the post office wanted a longer term.
David Fiske, the Inn’s attorney, said Wednesday that he didn’t know why the postal service had sent notice that they would not seek a new lease after July 2015; some have suggested it was a negotiating tactic. “That may be part of it,” he said, “but we’re talking to them. They’re very friendly and businesslike. Nobody’s mad at each other. We are just having some discussions.”
At Monday’s council session, Sullivan said he expects the Inn and town will also go forward with the planned final phase of improvements of the Main and Middle street area, specifically the “stub” of Middle Street that separates the Inn’s shops from the post office building — a building long shared by the Country Cafe on the Main Street frontage and attorney Frank Reynolds’ office in back. (Neither of the tenants, both of whom reportedly lease on a month-to-month basis, wanted to talk about it.)
Several reports suggest that The Inn wants to use the Main Street side for some future expansion, that the post office would move to the back of the building and that landscaping to be done on the stub street, and expanded parking out back, would make such a plan attractive. Fiske declined to discuss in detail any of the Inn’s plans, saying, “We are both [the postal service and the Inn] working toward the same end, of keeping them there at the corner.”
At the council’s aborted meeting Monday, three potential new council members had shown up, ready to make short speeches to the council in hopes of being appointed to its ranks: Bradley Schneider, a member of the town’s zoning appeals board; Gail Swift, a recently retired hospitality executive; and Gary Aichele, who owns and runs the Gay Street Inn with his wife, Wendy. One of the three will serve out Spethmann’s remaining term (or, depending on what is routinely decided by a circuit court judge, some fraction of it before a special election is held).
They all said they would be back next Monday, when the council hopes to have a quorum.