Jeramey Jannene

MFD Says There Were At Least 7 Recent Fires At Abandoned Northridge Mall

Security removed after Phoenix Investors walked away from buying property.

By - Nov 2nd, 2023 02:50 pm
Northridge Mall in August 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Northridge Mall in August 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) put out a fire Thursday morning inside the long-vacant Northridge Mall. And in doing so, department officials said they encountered “indications of as many as six other recently set fires.”

“I cannot overstate my frustration. This property remains inherently dangerous to Milwaukee firefighters who are repeatedly called to reports of fires at this location. It is also extremely dangerous to trespassers and vandals at the site,” said Fire Chief Aaron Lipski in a statement. “This morning is at least the seventh time firefighters have been called to the Northridge property in the last fifteen months. Action must be taken promptly to end this dangerous situation before people are severely injured or killed at this vacant and neglected site.”

Lipski, in prior court testimony and public statements, has said the fires appear to have been intentionally set given the property’s lack of electrical or gas service.

The latest fire comes after the mall lost its temporary security presence. The city continues to seek ownership of the blighted property, with the next court hearing scheduled for Dec. 1.

Warehousing specialist Phoenix Investors terminated a purchase agreement in July with the mall’s Chinese ownership group, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, and, in doing so, halted the security and maintenance efforts it had undertaken since March that ended a string of earlier fires and trespassing incidents.

Weekly city inspector reports filed with the court since Phoenix walked away detailed how doors were again being found open, half of the security fence is now missing and no security is on site. “Cameras, exterior security lights and No Trespassing signs have been removed,” says one report.

More than a half million dollars in unpaid contempt fines have been levied against Black Spruce for its failure to comply with a 2019 agreement to secure the 46.5-acre property. At least four fires took place at the mall in 2022.

The case appears to hinge on a pending appeals court ruling. According to online court records, each party submitted its briefs by Aug. 16, but the matter is still “awaiting assignment.” On Sept. 2, Circuit Court Judge William Sosnay said he is prepared to rule whenever that appeals court ruling comes down. Black Spruce is appealing Sosnay’s 2022 ruling that the city’s raze order for the approximately 900,000-square-foot complex is valid.

If the appeals court affirms Sosnay’s earlier ruling, the judge indicated he is poised to rule on the city’s request to take ownership of the property in lieu of the unpaid fines. “The court is not going to wait six months or a year,” said Sosnay, who has repeatedly pledged not to delay since inheriting the 2019 case in 2022.

An open raze order stands on the property, which requires Black Spruce to demolish the structure or gives the city the ability to step in to demolish it and place the cost, estimated at several million dollars, on Black Spruce’s property tax bill. The city, citing an undisclosed source of funds to perform the work, has asked for title to the property instead of waiting to resolve the matter through property tax foreclosure.

The mall, located near N. 76th Street and W. Brown Deer Road, closed in 2003 after 31 years of operation. A predecessor of Black Spruce acquired the property for $6 million in 2008. It has proposed creating an Asian marketplace, but those plans have never advanced.

MFD Photos of November 2023 Fire

August 2022 Photos

April 2019 Photos

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More about the Future of Northridge Mall

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