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Man hopes to revitalize ‘Forgotten Hall’

SOUTH ST. PAUL (AP) — It’s been easy for Alex Stojmenovic to see the Serbian Hall’s past.

He has sifted through the stacks of black-and-white photos that were left at the two-story brick building, read up on its rich history in South St. Paul and heard the personal stories from old-timers who still live in the neighborhood.

It’s the future of the shuttered century-old building, which Stojmenovic bought two years ago, that’s difficult to see.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he recently told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’ve never been in these waters. I’m just trying to fight one battle at a time.”

Stojmenovic was referring to his next challenge: securing a conditional-use permit from city officials that would allow him to hold wedding receptions, birthday parties and other gatherings in the building, located at the corner of Third Avenue and Fourth Street in a residential neighborhood. He said he plans to submit an application in the next week or two, a process that will include a public hearing.

In June, the South St. Paul City Council threw Stojmenovic a lifeline when they unanimously agreed to amend an ordinance to allow reception halls to operate as a conditional use in residential areas, as long as the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The goal is to help preserve these historic buildings,” city planner Michael Healy said. “The goal is not to have a free-for-all where people are just sort of converting buildings just at random into reception halls.”

Healy noted how reception halls already are operating in residential neighborhoods in churches and schools that rent out their banquet spaces.

Liquor could be served at some of the private events when a caterer has a liquor license, Healy said. He added that typically a conditional-use permit comes with 10 to 15 conditions, such as hours of operation.

Stojmenovic also owns an adjacent rental home on a double lot that could be split for some parking, which can be a thorny issue in residential neighborhoods. But he foresees a situation in which he could partner with a local business or restaurant where people could park and be shuttled to the Serbian Hall.

“We still have an issue with parking, but we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

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