The State Historic Preservation Review Board will not consider a nomination seeking historic designation for St. Paul's Hamline Midway Library, a decision that helps pave the way for the city's plans to demolish and rebuild the 92-year-old building.
Under federal law, the review board cannot consider nominations to the National Register of Historic Places if a city's mayor and Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) determine that a property does not meet eligibility criteria. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and George Gause, the city's heritage preservation supervisor, both sent letters to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office recommending against the nomination.
Ginny Way, architectural historian for the historic preservation office, said Minnesota has never seen a nomination halted by such objections. A member of the public can appeal the nomination to the National Park Service's keeper of the register.
"While this is not unprecedented nationwide, it is not common," Way said. "Generally, eligibility of a property is not as highly contentious as it is in this case."
The library at 1558 W. Minnehaha Av. has been a source of controversy for more than a year, since the city began exploring the possibility of tearing down the building to construct a new facility in its place. Some neighbors and preservationists opposed the plan, saying the city should instead renovate the existing structure.
A St. Paul Public Library spokesperson said that if the Hamline Midway Library is added to the register, "it could create uncertainty" for the $8.1 million rebuild slated to start next year.
Confusion surrounded the HPC's stance because the group voted Aug. 1 not to make a recommendation, after votes to support the nomination and object to it both failed.
Gause wrote in his letter that 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.
"I don't believe that the letter from the city reflected the actual intent of the commission," said Barbara Bezat, a former member of St. Paul's HPC who wrote the library's nomination. "I believe that the commissioners and the chair followed proper protocol in reaching the conclusion that they did."
Members of the HPC who voted to support the nomination declined to comment or did not respond to messages from the Star Tribune.