By Rebecca W. Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
In 2013, the lease for the building currently occupied by the International District (ID) post office on 6th Avenue and South Jackson Street will expire.
A couple years ago, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department bought the current site of the United States Post Office (USPS), planning to relocate the USPS and extend the adjacent Hing Hay Park into the current USPS site, according to Ernie Swanson, manager of the USPS Western Area Corporate Communications. This would double the size of Hing Hay Park.
“The landlord lease is currently good through September 2013, so we have at least two and a half years until termination,” he said.
Unfortunately, as the termination date nears, hopes of finding a new location dwindle.
“Seattle Parks bought the site, and the USPS told the City of Seattle of their interest in leaving that location. They have found it difficult to find a new location, and the City has offered assistance to help find a new spot. [But] to this day, there has been difficulty,” said Swanson. Swanson mentioned many times that USPS employees hope to stay as close as possible to current customers in the ID. USPS has been at the location since 1956.
For that, they have to find a large enough spot. Although staying in the ID is preferred, other options are being considered.
“There are letter carrier and retail operations going on, where people could buy stamps and use the mail boxes. [With just retail presences,] this option is more attractive because we could relocate the letter carriers outside the International District, where there is a lot more real estate,” said Swanson.
Hing Hay Park
There are mixed reactions from people who work in the surrounding community. Many say that improving Hing Hay Park could make it more of a tourist attraction. Currently, the park is often used as a gathering place for events, as the location is convenient.
It would be great [if] we get to double the [size] of Hing Hay Park,” stated Don Blakeney, executive director of Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA). “The area will give a new site line. It will create a design and public safety perspective that can’t be seen now.”
A current concern over Hing Hay Park is that the space is enclosed on two sides. Therefore, when it is dark, the park becomes a spot for illegal activity.
“I walk by, and I’ve seen people use and sell drugs,” said Blakeney. “One time, I even saw this guy plugging in an electronic tattoo drill, which is probably illegal. That is not safe. [But] more [of the park] can be seen once the post office is torn down.”
With safety in mind, Blakeney believes Hing Hay’s expansion will enhance the International District, creating a new ‘heart’ for Chinatown.
When the park is completely designed and built, Blakeney hopes it will attract more visitors to the area.
“One thing that will be great is the streetcar could have a stop right next to the park, so it would [make] transportation part of the experience of being in the International District,” Blakeney said.
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is located just three blocks away from the post office. The museum hosts many events, such as festivals, at Hing Hay Park. Margaret Su, development and marketing director at Wing Luke, admits to using the post office quite often in her line of work.
“Since Wing Luke is a neighborhood business, we stay connected with our community and with our supporters by mail. It is very convenient to have [the post office] at the current location,” stated Su.
However, she also believes that expansion of the park will help promote activities organized by the museum and bring more people into Chinatown.
“I think it is wonderful to have the expansion for the Hing Kay Park,” said Su. “It is where we promote activities, which is exciting.”
“It is great for Seattle Parks to develop Hing Hay Park,” said Ken Song, manager at the 505 Union Station Starbucks. “The International District needs a central community location, and the new development would be a reflection of that.”
“At the same time,” added Song, “from experience, that post office gets very busy, and it is unfortunate that the postal service has to move in order for the renovation to happen. Although I do think that the Hing Hay Park project — the idea of it — is a long time coming,” said Song.
Although Blakeney thinks that the current USPS location in the ID is wonderful for customers, there are better locations for a post office, in his opinion.
“The amenity of having a loading dock right next to the park is very inconvenient. It would be nice to have a brand new public space. Especially when we have celebration events, we can’t close off that area because it is a loading dock. … Having a loading dock right next to the park is not safe or practical. Don’t get me wrong, the post office has been a great partner, embracing the loading dock issue. But it is not convenient.”
USPS employees speak out
“This building has been here for years,” stated an employee at the post office, who spoke anonymously due to professional reasons. “Having the post office here is more convenient for the older folks that always come here.
“It is not a good idea to not have a main location for a post office because this place is not just a place [for people] to mail their items. We get the opportunity to have a conversation with our customers and solve any problems they have. Mailboxes or a machine can’t answer or solve those problems because the machine can’t talk back.”
Another employee believes that moving out of the ID would not be beneficial for the post office. The employee thinks that the current location is necessary, as the ID has experienced recent growth.
“There are a lot of renovations in the International District right now. The Milwaukee Apartment up the hill is one of the recent renovations, and that apartment is almost completely filled. With the expansion of the International District, it is more convenient to keep the location of the post office.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to move locations,” said a third employee. “Hing Hay Park is honestly unoccupied most of the time.”
Location, location, location
When patrons were asked where they thought the post office should be newly located, most did not have any specific ideas. Just somewhere close enough to be reached by the usual customers.
Blakeney mentioned a couple of locations, though. “One is in the north lot by the stadiums, where there are huge developments as well as huge facilities Hopefully, when the decision is made about the relocation, it will benefit both the USPS customers and users of the park.”
Swanson says that the public will be notified when a formal date and location are determined.
When it does make a decision, the postal service will tell customers about the relocation at least 90 days prior. ♦
Rebecca W. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.