Iconic Milwaukee venue Serb Hall up for sale

70-year-old banquet hall hit hard by pandemic

American Serb Memorial Hall, located at 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave. Photo by Google

Last updated on January 27th, 2021 at 11:47 am

American Serb Memorial Hall, a longtime event venue and community gathering site known for its fish fry, is for sale, Founders 3 Real Estate Services announced Monday.

The 50,000-square-foot banquet hall, located at 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave. on Milwaukee’s southwest side, has been operated by St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral since 1950. After facing financial challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation is now hoping to find a new owner for Serb Hall. 

Our Saint Sava congregation recognizes that the business realities of today and in the foreseeable future present an unfavorable financial path going forward,” said a spokesperson for the Serb Hall Board in a news release. “However, because of the prominent and desirable location of the property, were confident that there will be positive alternative use options that will better serve the church and local community.” 

Serb Hall will continue serving its popular Friday fish fry indefinitely. Customers can place orders for drive-thru, carryout or delivery through Door Dash. Dine-in service is currently not available, according to its website.

From a real estate standpoint, the goal is to find a buyer who would continue operating Serb Hall as a banquet hall or something similar, but given the impact of the pandemic on large event venues, redeveloping the property isn’t out of the question.

“It’s a real concern going forward if this facility is ever going to be able to live up to what it is, to what it used to be, and because of that if we’re unable to sell it as an existing facility, we’ll look at it as a potential redevelopment…,” said Tom Bruss, principal at Founders 3.

Bruss, along with Founders 3 partners Ned Purtell and Jon Thoresen will work with the church as agents for the property. 

Bruss sees great opportunity in the area surrounding Serb Hall, thanks to its traffic flow and high density. He said a lack of open space has kept retailers from breaking into the market, so if the property can’t be reused as an existing facility, there’s “tremendous” opportunity for redevelopment.

“The key is everything we’re trying to do here is for the betterment of the congregation,” he said.

Alderman Mark Borkowski of the city’s 11th district issued a statement Tuesday morning in response to the news of Serb Hall’s listing and impending closure. He called the decision “another reminder of the devastation caused” by the pandemic and paid tribute to what’s long been “the place to be, and to be seen.”

“I look forward to continuing to help maintain this important location as a viable commercial entity for the betterment of the City of Milwaukee,” said Borkowski. 

Serb Hall recently mourned the loss of its general manager Nicholas Alioto, who died late last year at the age of 55, according to WISN-TV Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes. In early November, Alioto was assaulted after abruptly ending a rally being held at Serb Hall in support of former President Donald Trump. The Milwaukee Health Department forced Alioto to end the rally because attendees weren’t following COVID-19 protocols.

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