Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Reaches The Hard Part of Demolishing Northridge Mall

Demolition nearly complete for former Boston Store.

By - May 2nd, 2024 02:23 pm
Demolition of the Boston Store building at Northridge Mall. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

Demolition of the Boston Store building at Northridge Mall. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

The former Boston Store building at Northridge Mall is nearly gone, and now comes the difficult part: demolishing the rest of the vacant mall and planning for what’s next.

The City of Milwaukee issued a request for proposals to demolish the remaining 800,000-square-foot mall complex and is vying for a $100,000 planning grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Bid responses are due June 11 and the winning bidder is expected to be on site shortly thereafter. But unlike the Boston Store demolition, which was quickly visible to passersby, the initial work on the blighted mall complex won’t be easy to see.

“[Environmental] abatement is going to be a long process,” said Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee project manager Benjamin Timm to the Granville Advisory Committee Wednesday. That process is expected to take six months. “You won’t see a lot of activity on the outside of the building.”

That’s because the mall complex, shuttered since 2003, is laden with asbestos. Once widely used for its fire suppression ability, the fibrous minerals have been found to cause cancer and now must be carefully removed with sealed dumpsters and protective suits.

The good news for city officials is that there hasn’t been a lot of activity on the inside of the building. “In the month of April, we did not have any break-ins,” said Timm. Break-ins frequently occurred toward the end of U.S. Black Spruce Group’s ownership, with Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski stating he believed the repeated fires at the building were intentionally set. Northway Fence was the winning bidder to install approximately a mile of chain-link fence to secure the site and has completed the installation said Timm.

Contractor HM Brandt has demolished approximately 80% of the two-story, 153,000-square-foot Boston Store building. Timm said approximately 90% of the materials had been recycled, save primarily for the roof, which is contaminated with asbestos. The city, which has owned the attached structure since 2017, removed asbestos from the rest of the interior in 2021. “They’re ahead of schedule right now,” said Timm, of the work which began in March.

Underground utility realignment is to occur as part of the demolition project. The mall was served by an intertwined network of water and other services. But redeveloping the site will require running separate utility lines to each property.

Demolition and site preparation work is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2025. The cost is expected to be largely covered by a $15 million grant funded by the state’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation. The city would access the WEDC grant by using $50,000 from a previous $400,000 RACM allocation to demolish the Boston Store.

Planning For What’s Next?

The Department of City Development (DCD) is ramping up its planning process for the future of the site, located near the intersection of N. 76th Street and W. Brown Deer Road.

A community engagement website is in “soft launch” mode right now said DCD planner Kyle Gast. But it will eventually be used to garner substantial community feedback on a proposal that is likely to include a mix of uses.

Known as Granville Station in planning documents, the 58-acre mall site has been targeted for mixed-use redevelopment, often with light industrial anchor tenants, in prior area plans and design charettes.

Community meetings are expected to be held as the planning process kicks off. “We will be formally partnering with the Granville Business Improvement District,” said DCD long-range planning manager Tanya Fonseca to the RACM board on April 18.

The city, said Fonseca, is expected to hire an outside consultant to help administer the planning process. The WEDC grant would help fund that component.

Committee members asked that any redevelopment include amenities for nearby residents, particularly children.

The parking lots will be left in place while the mall structure is demolished, only to be removed as redevelopment occurs. Timm said it would help with stormwater management and pest control.

Once the parking lots are removed, it’s not expected it will be complicated to place buildings atop the property. “It’s not contaminated. The ground, the soil is clean,” said Fonseca last month.

The ring road network is expected to be replaced because the road structure is not built to standards for heavy use. A Menard’s store and self-storage facility, built after the mall’s closure and not part of the city’s holdings, are to remain.

The community engagement website is available on the EngageMKE platform, while the city maintains a Granville Station webpage to track the broader project.

Leaving The Court Room

Any looming potential legal challenges to Milwaukee’s ownership of the mall are quickly dissapearing. After taking the mall via property tax foreclosure in January, an appeal deadline expired on March 11.

The central matter that previously delayed the city’s attempt to get ownership or demolition, a pending appeal by Black Spruce of a ruling by Judge William Sosnay, appears to be dead. The city filed a motion to dismiss in April, given that it now owns the property, and Black Spruce had until April 26 to respond. On April 23, Black Spruce’s attorney, Andrew J. Kramer of Hansen Reynolds, filed to withdraw from the case and no response was filed to the city’s motion to dismiss.

A hearing on the underlying circuit court matter is scheduled for June before Sosnay, though the city’s acquisition of the property and the end of the appeal may also render it moot.

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