Between last August and Tuesday morning, a sign heralded that the former Post Office at the corner of Walnut Street and Fourth Street was up for auction.
The sign — placed by Future of Real Estate (FRE) of Newport Beach, California — advertised around 13,500 square feet of potential retail and office space, and it gave a link to the auction.
The link is dead and, by early Tuesday afternoon, the sign had been removed.
But left in their place are questions about the current status of the building itself and what the future may hold.
City Manager Amy Leon told the Press & Dakotan that city officials are in the dark over the current ownership of the building, which has stood at Fourth and Walnut since 1905.
“The last we heard was that they were having an auction, and we don’t even know the results of that,” Leon said. “We don’t necessarily know if there was a property transaction. Typically, if somebody was interested in buying something like that, they would come to us to see what the land use can be and what types of things can be on that site. But we haven’t had that visit.”
One thing about the former post office is for certain — it’s no longer up for auction by FRE. The original auction had been set to run through Sept. 13, 2018. The starting bid was $300,000.
After previously unsuccessful attempts at communication with FRE, the Press & Dakotan was able to contact a representative through its Bidding hotline Tuesday morning. This person said they would look into what had ultimately happened to the property and would follow-up soon after, but this was not received by press time.
However, it was some time after this contact that the sign announcing the auction facing Fourth Street was removed.
Leon said the situation could be worse.
“A lot of downtowns have vacancies,” she said. “The fact that the building has had maintenance is a positive in that it has potential. There are some communities where buildings are not addressed; they’re dormant and fall into disrepair. Fortunately, this one has had some attention and it’s a well-built building with a lot of historic value. So it’s definitely an appealing building.”
She said that, while not the ideal situation, it would be better to wait on a quality project to start bringing in revenues.
“Certainly, it would be better if it was producing sales tax today,” she said. “However, I think because of its location, historic nature and character that eventually the right project will come along. There’s the argument, ‘Is it better to have anything in there?’ I would say my personal opinion is probably not. It would be nice to have the right project there — and I know there’s been things discussed over the years.”
The most promising development for the Post Office, which closed its doors in January 2012, had been plans that were intermittently worked on following its purchase by U.S. Property in 2014.
Monte Froehlich, president and managing broker of U.S. Property, told the Press & Dakotan in November of that year of plans to turn the former Post Office into 21 apartments and option up to 3,000 square feet of retail space. Work began the following spring before pausing in 2016 due to budgetary concerns.
In 2017, a new roof was installed and Froehlich expressed renewed hope that work could restart the following year — this time with the retail section being the initial focus.
“This project should work because, nationally, retailers that are focused on delivering a great customer experience are doing really well,” Froehlich told the Press & Dakotan in November 2017. “Bars, restaurants and any kind of retail that’s ‘Amazon-proof’ are doing exceptionally well across the country. We think this makes sense for this being right on the major corridor in downtown Yankton. If there’s any kind of city incentive to help us get off the ground, I think this could be a great anchor on the north end of the retail corridor of (downtown) Yankton.”
An attempt was made to contact Froehlich for comment on this story, but no response was received by press time.
Leon said city officials are hopeful of finding out what’s going on with the old post office and said that they will work with anyone to make sure it’s heading in the right direction.
“I’ll be interested to find out who the current owner is, and we’ll certainly entertain any conversations they have about use of that building and their plans,” she said.
She added that she still hopes the building can eventually contribute to the Meridian District’s continued revitalization.
“It’s definitely one of the many buildings downtown we’d like to see vibrant and contributing to our overall economic vitality,” she said.
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