Nothing New in Northridge Mall Plan
Is Northridge dispute simply an echo of the drawn-out Menomonee Valley fight?
The pretty pictures released in late May of a redeveloped Northridge Mall, according to numerous sources, are just that: pretty pictures and nothing more. And the company’s strategy in releasing this information appears to mirror that used in a past fight between the city and a private developer.
The mall has been closed since 2003. The Chinese investment group U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group acquired the former mall in 2008 and announced plans to create a trade market for Chinese companies to sell their products to American consumers. But that project has not moved forward, much to the frustration of city officials. The city issued a raze order in April and the otherwise silent ownership group is now fighting it, claiming it is working on a redevelopment plan.
But in an interview with Urban Milwaukee, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis said: “the plans that they submitted are the same ones they’ve always talked about with no movement forward.”
“Those renderings were not new,” said Lewis of May 24th filing by Black Spruce’s legal counsel. “I wasn’t surprised because I fully anticipated them to say they wanted to do something. However, we continue to see vandalism and their lack of investment.”
Lewis’ comment sounds similar to something her soon-to-retire colleague Alderman Robert Donovan said to the Milwaukee Business Journal back in 2000 about what later became the award-winning Menomonee Valley Industrial Center on land then owned by CMC Heartland Partners, the successor to the bankrupt Milwaukee Road railroad.
“I find it ironic that all of a sudden now that the city is taking action, [CMC executive Edwin Jacobson] comes to Milwaukee with ideas and suggestions,” said Donovan in 2000. “I’ve never had the impression CMC was a serious partner in working with the city to develop the land to its full potential.”
CMC, according to public statements from its representatives including Craig Peterson, had planned to develop a large retail complex with regional retailers, restaurants, entertainment clubs and big-box, national retail stores.
“CMC was a not a development company interested in working with the city on something feasible,” said Julie Penman in 2006. “It was a land speculation company.” Penman served for a period as Commissioner of the Department of City Development under Norquist.
But similar to what might happen at Northridge, it took years for the city to acquire the land in the Menomonee Valley.
The firm ultimately sold more than 300 acres of land in Milwaukee County for $20 million without ever developing a project. The city condemned the approximately 140-acre Menomonee Valley site in 2003, and ultimately acquired it for $3.55 million, spending millions more to clean up the former railroad shops.
Northridge Mall Today
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