City asks judge for title to former Northridge Mall

Northridge Mall. (Cara Spoto/BizTimes)

Last updated on January 28th, 2023 at 12:09 am

The City of Milwaukee has asked a local judge for title to the former Northridge Mall property.

In a motion filed Tuesday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, City Attorney Tearman Spencer argued that the move is the only way to ensure that the city can acquire the property with enough time to access funding sources to assist with demolishing the former mall – a job city officials estimate could cost $15 million.

The filing came on the day of yet another status conference in the case, which has seen Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Sosnay bemoan the lack of action taken to adequately address issues with the nuisance property, and mall owner U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc. has now racked up roughly $300,000 in forfeitures for failing to follow orders to properly secure the building and provide 24-7 security at the complex.

In the eight-page motion, which Sosnay is slated to formally hear on March 17, the city argues that transferring the title of the nuisance property to the city is the only course of action that will terminate U.S. Black Spruce Group’s contempt of court and provide a timely path forward for razing the property. Tax foreclosure is not a viable option for the city, officials say, since U.S. Black Spruce can simply stop the foreclosure process by paying just enough of its back taxes to stave off the process for another year. That is what happened when the city attempted to take that route in 2019.

Spearman notes that the circuit court already used the title transfer process to stop an illegal after-hours tavern in 2015. In that case, now-retired Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Dennis Moroney awarded the title of the duplex for the party house to the city.

“(The Northridge Mall) case is unique because it involves an absentee property owner located in a foreign country with no potentially reachable assets. The property owners do not appear to be interested in the property. They have failed to maintain and secure it against trespassers. They do not appear to be concerned about the community or its safety … They are not induced to act by a court order requiring reasonable action to secure the properties. They are not intimidated by the forfeitures imposed by the court, or the liens placed on their properties,” the motion states. “The only option to terminating the contempt of court is to award the city title to the properties… The time to act is now …The citizens of Milwaukee have waited long enough.”

Not only would awarding city title to the property eliminate the contempt of court, but it would also put the blighted buildings in the city’s hands with enough time to access as-yet unspecified sources of money to fund the costly demolition of the sprawling complex located at 8110 W Brown Deer Road.

“Time is of the essence with respect to the availability of funds for the razing of the properties. Discussions relating to possible funding sources have advanced,” Spencer states. “However, funding opportunities have deadlines for ‘shovels in the ground,’ and time sensitive procurement requirements.”

On Tuesday, Sosnay again expressed frustration about U.S. Black Spruce’s failure to follow court orders and ordered the China-based owners to appear in person at the March 17 hearing. An order to appear in person at Tuesday’s hearing was ignored by the owners, according to a WISN News report.

While clearly frustrated by delays in the case, Sosnay said Tuesday that he was moving as fast as the law allows.

“In less than six months, this court has done, and ordered more than what’s been done in 15 years – let alone the last three years, when this order was first filed by the city,” Sosnay said. “The court will continue to keep my foot on the gas.”

It is not clear what impact Sosnay’s decision in the city’s latest motion might have on U.S. Black Spruce Group’s attempt to appeal the city’s existing demolition order.

No hearings had been scheduled in that case as of Wednesday morning.

Cara covers commercial and residential real estate. She has an extensive background in local government reporting and hopes to use her experience writing about both urban and rural redevelopment to better inform readers. Cara lives in Waukesha with her husband, a teenager, a toddler, a dog named Neutron, a bird named Potter, and a lizard named Peyoye. She loves music, food, and comedy, but not necessarily in that order.

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