TIETON — Tieton community boosters are ending their quest to create “the coolest post office in America.”
“We are pulling the plug on the project,” said Ed Marquand, partner and founder of Mighty Tieton, an incubator for artisan and design-related light manufacturing businesses in the agricultural town of 1,200.
In calls this week with Marquand and Tieton Mayor Stan Hall, the U.S. Postal Service’s vice president of facilities explained the agency’s position.
Marquand recounted that the official, Tom Samra, said that if he approved the Tieton project, dozens or even hundreds of post offices might want to take the same creative approach to renovations.
“We had a very cordial conversation,” Marquand said. “He was very complimentary of the project and complimentary of us and the motivations for us doing it. “There simply is not the administrative infrastructure to deal with the thousands of requests that they would receive, and the legal issues it would raise.”
Supporters on July 1 launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $48,000 to replace the post office’s utilitarian facade. The giant mosaic of 41,500 hand-cut glass tiles would have resembled a historic postage stamp.
Boosters saw the project as a draw for tourists and a tribute to small-town post offices across America.
The project reached its funding goal Monday but was on hold after Ernie Swanson, communications programs specialist with the USPS in Seattle, emailed July 22 saying the Postal Service declined the project.
Before the Kickstarter campaign began, Tieton Postmaster Cindy England discussed the project with a supervisor, and both thought it best to treat the facade project as a maintenance issue. As such, no further approval would have been needed, Marquand has said.
Last week, Swanson said the project did not follow correct procedure.
“The procedure is that it has to be cleared by our facilities office, and that was not done. And when it got to the attention of the vice president of facilities at headquarters, he vetoed the thing,” Swanson said.
Marquand, Hall and others still hoped to see the project come to fruition on the building, which was donated by a local family to replace an aging postal service structure. They spoke with various officials, including the staff of U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
The story has gotten attention from outside the state and beyond through lively discussion on social media, an editorial that appeared in the Yakima Herald-Republic on Friday and a more recent piece on Crosscut.com by Seattle writer Eric Scigliano.
Supporters are saddened by the project’s demise, but Marquand is trying to tamp down any ensuing anger.
“It looked like the sort of thing that was going to turn into an anti-government rant, and that’s not the story we’re going to be putting out at all,” he said.
“Locally, all of this was done with the best of intentions ... all of this was done in complete goodwill. And I also take (Samra’s) word that he really did like the project, and wish there were a mechanism for it to go through. But he simply couldn’t imagine one.”
Campaign leaders asked two of the major contributors to reduce their contributions to the Kickstarter campaign, taking it well below the $48,000 sought, “so the whole thing will evaporate at 5 p.m. Monday,” the final day of the campaign, Marquand said.
“No money has been exchanged” through the Kickstarter campaign, he said.
Concerning those who gave checks or cash in person rather than pledge funds through Kickstarter, supporters will contact them in the next weeks to determine the best way to return their contributions.
“We just didn’t appreciate the extent of the federal bureaucracy and the managerial challenges of the USPS,” Marquand said.