Morristown backs out of Post Office purchase; mayor cites renovation costs

TOWN 'CENTERPIECE' ? Mayor Tim Dougherty says the post office could be transformed. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown Post Office. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


Municipal plans to buy the Morristown Post Office got stamped “return to sender” on Tuesday.

After a closed-session briefing by the administration, the town council quietly agreed to withdraw from a $3 million contract to buy the historic 108-year-old structure across from the Morristown Green.

Council members were told renovations would have cost around $24 million — about 12 times more than Mayor Tim Dougherty’s original estimate.

“It’s just not financially feasible for us to do what we wanted to do. We tried everything,” the mayor said after the council meeting.

The unanimous vote concluded a difficult dance with the Postal Service that began in 2016. And for the moment, at least, it dampened Dougherty’s dreams of moving municipal operations from town hall on South Street.

In 2022, the mayor had estimated the 17,000-square-foot Post Office could be renovated for about $2 million and transformed into a centerpiece of the downtown. “We can bring it back to its glory,” he said at the time.

But the town’s experts painted a different picture. Town Administrator Jillian Barrick said they predicted it would cost upwards of $7 million just to satisfy town building codes — repairing water- and structural damage and removing asbestos — plus another $17 million to expand and modernize the building with air conditioning, an elevator, and new heating, electric and fire suppression systems.

Town Attorney Vij Pawar and town Planner Phil Abramson in lobby of Morristown Post Office. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Then-town Attorney Vij Pawar and town Planner Phil Abramson tour the Morristown Post Office in 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Barrick said the Postal Service will refund a town downpayment. The council had budgeted $150,000, transferring funds set aside to buy a dilapidated former bar in the Second Ward. A bond sale was contemplated to complete the Post Office purchase.

Morris County also contributed historic preservation grants totaling about $640,000, awards that presumably now must be returned.

The town hired Historic Building Architects LLC of Trenton for $116,220 to evaluate the condition of the Post Office and its potential uses.

Town officials had characterized negotiations with the Postal Service as laborious. Now, the organization is “open to working with us to come up with creative solutions for that historic spot,” Dougherty said.

Possible uses might involve the arts, or maybe a fashion store like Anthropologie, the mayor suggested.

Laying the cornerstone for the Morris Street post office in 1915. Photo courtesy of the North Jersey History & Genealogy Center at the Morristown & Township Library.

Erected in 1916 on a half-acre at One Morris St., the Morristown Post Office is listed on federal and state historic registers, according to the building’s cornerstone.

In this century, most of its postal operations were shifted to a newer center in Morris Township. Residents lobbied successfully in 2012 to prevent the Postal Service from closing the Morristown facility.

Dougherty added he has not given up on relocating municipal offices from town hall, a former bank headquarters he considers too large and costly to maintain.

If a suitable venue cannot be found, he said, another option might be consolidating town offices there and selling or leasing the rest of town hall.


In other business, Councilwoman Tina Lindsey said things are improving in her neighborhood, Manahan Village. The public housing community is in the midst of privatization and major renovations that have spurred numerous complaints.

“Residents are being happy, and are ready to move back into their apartments,” Lindsey said.

The monthly meeting of the Morristown Housing Authority was canceled Monday because three commissioners were ill, she added.

Sharitha Dawkins, a resident of Clyde Potts Drive, contends commissioners would have gotten an earful from tenants who lost their heat over the weekend and were unable to reach the new landlord, Orbach Affordable Housing Solutions LLC of Bergen County.

“The emergency number wasn’t working. We are still COLD,” Dawkins told Morristown Green.

The mayor and council also heard an urgent plea to crack down on electric scooters and bicycles that zip silently along downtown sidewalks.

Resident Bill Byrne reiterates concerns about pedestrian safety, at Morristown council reorganization, Jan. 2, 2024. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“What is it going to take, somebody to die before something gets done?” asked resident Bill Byrne, an advocate for people with disabilities, and for pedestrians.

Morristown prohibits bicycles on certain sidewalks, though children are exempted. Byrne expressed exasperation over what he perceives as non-enforcement. He also insisted youths should be held to the same safety laws as everyone else.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone recommended the council revisit ordinance provisions pertaining to electric vehicles.

Dougherty said electric bikes can attain speeds of 25 to 30 mph. Noting the police chief and public safety director were in the audience, the mayor said he was hopeful they would ask officers to remind cyclists that “those types of bikes are supposed to be on streets, not sidewalks.”

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  1. This was a bad idea from the beginning and I’m happy to see the Mayor and council have made the decision to drop the idea.

  2. This was an ill-conceived vanity project from the get-go. Anyone could have predicted that it would be a money pit. The existing town hall is more than adequate in terms of space, parking and ease of access.

    The USPS likely looked at a potential sale as a great opportunity to stick someone else with their problem. It will take very deep pockets to renovate this structure into something that justifies the significant cash outflow just to get it to minimal acceptable standards.

  3. The building I believe is on the National Historic site index. If so, the requirements and permissions needed to rennovate that building will be extensive, expensive and may prevent most from taking on that project.

    Sure a restaurant sounds good, need a liquor license and a “boatload” of cash to make it happen.

  4. @ Matt – “I think a Jockey Hollow-esque restaurant….would be awesome.”

    Agree!! Call it the “The Post”

  5. If the infrastruce ( electric, water, fire, etc. ) requires so much updating to meet code, no local entity is going to be able to afford that other than a developer.

    The only possible local entity might be the Mayo Theatre as they have a successful track record of transforming old buildings into revenue generating operations.

    Just sayin.

  6. The ‘creative usage of this historic site’ would be an asset to this Morristown location rather than another behemoth building . The town needs an infusion of culture and retail rather than bars.

  7. Wow – not sure how this could cost $24M? Is it because it would be public and therefore require all workers be unionized and paid the construction prevailing wage? That usually triples the cost of a project.

    Anyways – still would be amazing for a private co to renovate the existing space and turn into a new restaurant and bar . Can see it as a really neat upscale place.