City issues bid to raze former Northridge Mall Boston Store

The City of Milwaukee is ready to raze the former Boston Store building it owns at the abandoned Northridge Mall.

After first signaling plans to raze the 153,000-square-foot department store in 2019, a spokesperson for the city announced Wednesday that a bid package had gone out that morning seeking proposals from demolition contractors interested in taking on the job.

The bid is being issued, the spokesperson said, to reduce the city’s liability as a property owner, as well as “demonstrate for nearby residents and businesses” that the city is doing its “part to address this nuisance.”

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“Local residents, families, and businesses have waited long enough and deserve better. The city of Milwaukee agrees, so we are taking action where we can to advance progress at the former Northridge site in protecting public safety and working to realize the full future potential of the neighborhood,” the spokesperson added.

The power was turned off at the Boston Store in 2018 and asbestos abatement work was completed in 2021. The money to raze the former department store is expected to come from previously approved funding from the city’s EPA Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund. Bids are slated to be opened on April 14.

The city has owned the Boston Store section of the mall since it was gifted the structure by Bill Penzey, owner of Penzeys Spices (which had planned to establish operations at Northridge, but was unable to move forward with those plans), in November 2017. The city has been in a legal battle with China-based U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group – the owner of the rest of the mall structure – since the city first issued raze orders on the mall in April 2019. Both the mall and the Boston Store closed in 2003.

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News of the city’s plans to officially go ahead with tearing down its portion of the blighted mall, comes a little over a month after officials asked Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Sosnay, to give the city title to the entire mall.

In a motion filed in late January, 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.

A hearing on the motion has been scheduled for Friday morning.

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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, Spencer stated in the court filing. 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.

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.”

It remains unclear 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.

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