Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Northridge Mall Lawsuit Filed

Battle over future of vacant mall headed to Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

By - Aug 26th, 2019 04:28 pm
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Northridge Mall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Northridge Mall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The fight over the future of Northridge Mall has officially entered its next phase.

The vacant mall’s Chinese ownership group, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, has filed for injunctions to prevent the City of Milwaukee from moving forward with condemnation orders to demolish the portions of the structure it deemed hazardous.

The filings, submitted Friday to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, come in response to the city’s move to raze the complex in early April.

The property, actually three separate parcels, was acquired by Black Spruce for $6 million in 2008 and includes almost 900,000 square feet of space. The structures are assessed for only $81,000 and need $6 million in repairs said Department of Neighborhood Services Commissioner Thomas G. Mishefske in April. The commissioner said the roof is failing, scrappers have illegally stripped many of the mechanical systems and the masonry is in disrepair. The cratering assessment and growing repair costs place it far below the 50 percent of assessed value threshold for repair costs that the city must meet before issuing a raze order.

Black Spruce, through its attorney Eric Hatchell of Foley & Lardner, appealed the decision to the city’s Standards and Appeals Commission citing the investment group’s plans to redevelop the complex. Black Spruce representatives have argued that the repair costs are less than $6 million. But the mayor-appointed commissioners rejected Black Spruce’s claims, clearing the way for the matter to go to court.

“Black Spruce wants to be a team player with the city, it’s just disappointing the city doesn’t want to participate in any sort of further discussions and they remain committed to tearing it down,” said Hatchell following the July hearing.

As part of its appeal to the city Black Spruce submitted renderings of its proposal to convert the mall into a Chinese market. Area Alderwoman Chantia Lewis said the move didn’t surprise her. “The plans that they submitted are the same ones they’ve always talked about with no movement forward,” she told Urban Milwaukee. “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, Misfefske and Mayor Tom Barrett have said break-ins and vandalism have become a significant problem at the former mall. A maintenance worker was killed by a high-voltage transformer in an electrical box at the mall in late July. The electrical box was previously damaged by scrappers said the Milwaukee Police Department.

On Friday, attorney Mark Foley of von Briesen & Roper filed for the injunctions on Black Spruce’s behalf in an attempt to halt the city’s orders. The City of Milwaukee has 45 days to respond to the filing.

Should the city prevail, it would spend an estimated $10 million to $12 million to demolish the mall properties. If Black Spruce does not pay for that work and its existing, overdue property tax bill, the city would move to seize the properties through property tax foreclosure. City officials initiated property tax foreclosure proceedings against the mall owners earlier this year for unpaid 2017 property taxes, but the ownership group has previously paid off back taxes to avoid foreclosure.

The twists and turns were expected from the moment the city announced it was taking action. When Barrett, Lewis and others gathered in front of the mall to announce the city’s condemnation order, they openly speculated that the measure would likely head to court.

The mall opened in 1972 and closed its doors in 2003.

Northridge Mall – April 2019

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