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A state board's decision Tuesday could be key to determining the fate of St. Paul's Hamline Midway library branch, which preservationists have been fighting to save since the city announced plans to demolish and rebuild the 92-year-old facility.

Members of Minnesota's 16-person State Historic Preservation Review Board will consider whether the library qualifies for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. A listing on the register, which would also have to be approved by the National Park Service, could delay or alter the city's $8.1 million reconstruction plans.

"If Hamline Midway library is added to the National Register of Historic Places, it could create uncertainty for the project and impact the timeline and budget," St. Paul Public Library spokesperson Stacy Opitz said in a statement Monday.

St. Paul officials have argued that the library at 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave. is in poor condition and requires a complete rebuild to improve accessibility and sustainability. Grassroots activists, who have organized to form the "Renovate 1558" group, say the city should instead go with a previous proposal to remodel and expand the existing facility.

"Listing in the National Register does not prevent demolition by a public or a private owner," said Ginny Way, architectural historian for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). However, she said, the designation would require the city to go through additional review processes before doing work on the building.

"This process gives opportunity to the public to voice their opinion," Way said. "As we well know, sometimes that's just an opportunity, and it yields no change. And sometimes it can result in a better understanding of a property and a change of plan."

A desire for more public conversations about the library is partly what motivated Barbara Bezat, a historic preservation researcher, to nominate the property for the register. In a nomination form, she argues that the library qualifies because it is "associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history."

Construction on the Collegiate Gothic-style building was finished in 1930. Bezat wrote that initial contributions from the estate of philanthropist Henry Hale and neighborhood women's clubs, as well as the community's continued efforts to provide education through library services for decades, make the library an example of historic trends.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter wrote a letter to the SHPO objecting to Bezat's nomination, saying it "falls short" of meeting the criteria required for historic designation.

"The type of community engagement and advocacy submitted in the proposal is neither unique to this library, nor unique to the period from 1930-1972 included in the nomination," Carter wrote.

Under federal law, the review board will not consider nominations if a city's mayor and Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) determine that a property does not meet the register's criteria. Way said this has never happened in Minnesota, though if it does occur, individuals can file an appeal.

At an Aug. 1 meeting, St. Paul's HPC voted not to make a recommendation after votes to support the nomination and object to it both failed.

However, new uncertainty emerged Friday after George Gause, St. Paul's heritage preservation supervisor, sent a letter to the SHPO saying city staff erroneously allowed the HPC to vote on multiple motions — and the only one that should count is their initial vote, a 5-4 decision not to support the nomination.

Way said late Monday afternoon that SHPO staff are still determining how to interpret Gause's letter.

Tom Goldstein, an organizer with Renovate 1558, said Monday that the confusion surrounding the HPC votes is "yet another example of how the preservation process has been completely politicized at the city level."

In an op-ed in the Midway Como Frogtown Monitor last week, Goldstein and others wrote that the city orchestrated a campaign "demonizing the building" instead of letting public feedback drive the decision between a renovation and complete rebuild.

Library officials and City Council Member Mitra Jalali, who represents the Hamline Midway neighborhood, have pushed back on those claims, arguing that extensive community engagement efforts informed their plan to build a new, more accessible facility.

The State Historic Preservation Review Board's virtual meeting will start Tuesday at 6 p.m. and can be accessed via a WebEx link on the SHPO's website. There will be an opportunity for members of the public to speak, Way said.