On the day champions of St. Paul's Hamline Midway Library celebrated the building's addition to the National Register of Historic Places, the city announced the library would close for good May 28.

Officials plan to tear it down and build a new, more accessible library in its place.

Having a building designated as historic is no guarantee it will avoid the wrecking ball, state and local preservation experts say. Victories require hard work, some financial incentive and a shared willingness to see it through.

"There are lots of success stories with preservation, and lots of big failures," said author and architectural historian Larry Millett, who chronicled some of the Twin Cities' biggest losses over the decades. "And it's really hard if you have an owner that doesn't want it to be."

There are multiple levels of historic designation for properties, said Amy Spong, division director and deputy state historic preservation officer.

While the National Register is considered recognition that a property is worth saving, local historic or heritage preservation commissions have the most say through planning and zoning rules. State Historic Preservation Offices mostly serve as consultants, Spong said.

"We don't deny. We don't approve. It's a consultation," she said.

Consultation with state preservation agencies is required when public money is involved, Spong said.

Cities have to consult with the State Historic Preservation Office if they are using public funds to raze or alter historic properties, she said, and are often asked if they explored alternatives to demolition, such as selling or moving a property.

One local preservation fight that resulted in a win-win, Spong said, was Minneapolis' Peavey Plaza.

Built in 1975 next to Orchestra Hall, the below-ground plaza had no wheelchair ramps and its water features were often dry after years of disrepair. The Minneapolis City Council initially sought to demolish the existing plaza and replace it with a more modern space accessible to those with disabilities. Preservationists sued and fought successfully to have the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, resulting in a settlement with the city in 2013 that ditched the demolition plans.

An accessible Peavey Plaza reopened in 2019 after a $10 million renovation.

Historic designation can be key in securing financial incentives to save and repurpose old buildings, Spong said. Given that Minnesota has an inventory of 94,000 historic properties, it makes more sense to identify those deserving of saving long before someone wants to knock them down, she said.

Andrea Burke, supervisor of the Historic Preservation Planning Division for Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, agrees that designation alone isn't enough. The Philander Prescott House was listed on the National Register in 1975 but demolished in 1980. The Nicollet Hotel was listed in 1987 but demolished in 1991, she said.

"Honestly, the biggest factor that really guarantees a property's future is being proactive," Burke said, pointing to the Minneapolis Warehouse District and developers' use of tax credits as an example. "If somebody is going to invest in these buildings, they're going to want to keep them."

The federal government offers a 20% tax credit to developers reusing historic properties to create affordable housing. Minnesota did too, although that credit is sunsetting. A proposal to renew it is before the Legislature.

Projects that have used a combination of tax credits, private financing and direct government assistance include the former Schmidt brewery in St. Paul and the former St. Louis County jail in Duluth.

Sometimes, as in the case of Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul, some initial sparring and courtroom saber-rattling can pull the necessary players — developer, City Council, preservationists — together to save a property. Yet, until developer Dave Brooks sought to have the city's oldest surviving firehouse razed for a hotel development, Hope had been under the radar.

Some admit they looked at the Justus Ramsey House, built in 1853 of area limestone and resting on the patio at Burger Moe's on St. Paul's W. 7th Street, and figured there was nothing to worry about. After all, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and two local registries. Previous owners used it as a bar.

Then the current owner applied for a demolition permit after a side of the cottage collapsed, spurring a bittersweet fight by preservationists to save it. The St. Paul City Council eventually agreed to pay to disassemble the cottage and store it, to be rebuilt at a site and date to be determined.

Jim Sazevich, a local historian, said the outcome left preservationists deflated.

"The wins have been great and exciting. But every time you do, you get these setbacks," he said. "There is no reason on this earth that that structure couldn't be saved exactly where it was built."

Barb Bezat did months of research to get the Hamline Midway Library, also known as the Henry Hale Memorial Library, placed on the National Register.

Because of the building's historic designation, the city is going through an environmental review process with the state Environmental Quality Board. It is also consulting with the State Historic Preservation Office. None of that would prevent demolition.

In fact, the city is planning on it. It announced that the library's collection will be boxed up and put in storage while the old building is razed and a new $8.1 million library is built. Preservationists said they'll go to court if necessary.

On Thursday, Bezat insisted on enjoying the national recognition. The Hamline Midway Library was the first built in St. Paul without city or Andrew Carnegie funds. It was meant to be for all residents, she said. Preservationists want the existing library remodeled or sold and repurposed.

"This is a celebration," she said, her fingers blue from the frosting on a cake made for the event. "At this point, we know that the neighborhood's hearts and minds are behind preservation. I am adamantly optimistic that argument will win the day."