Investigators search for cause of second fire in four days at abandoned Northridge Mall

Property owner has been fighting city's raze orders

Northridge Mall. (Cara Spoto/BizTimes)

Last updated on July 25th, 2022 at 02:15 pm

Investigators are looking for clues as to what might have caused the second fire in four days at the former Northridge Mall on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.

According to the Milwaukee Fire Department, crews were called to the sprawling shopping center, which sits on 22.3 acres of land at 9009 N. Granville Station Road at 5:10 p.m. on Tuesday after dispatchers received a report of smoke coming from the building.

Arriving about four minutes later, firefighters eventually found heavy fire inside the building, and categorized the blaze as a second-alarm fire.

Primary and secondary searches of the building found no occupants or victims, a Milwaukee Fire Department employee said. The fire was placed under control at 6:42 p.m., and crews stayed until about 8 p.m. when the scene was turned over to an investigator and the Milwaukee Police Department.

The fire came about three days after another, smaller blaze called firefighters out to the vacant mall. That incident was called in at 8:02 p.m. on Saturday when someone reported “smoke coming out of the pyramid things on the top of Northridge Mall,” the same fire department employee said, reading the dispatch report. That was a smaller fire on the lowest level of the mall, and was extinguished far more quickly.

Trespassing frequent

The blighted mall has become a favorite of urban spelunkers, especially those fascinated by abandoned buildings. A post on the page for the Facebook Group “Abandoned Wisconsin” shows about 30 photos taken inside and outside of the mall earlier this month.

On Thursday, fencing on the outskirts of the parking lot, presumably meant to keep vandals away, was trampled, torn or even open in several places. There were also several easy access points to the building. Including an open door to a utility stairwell.

The mall has been vacant and unused – for commercial purposes that is – since 2003.

Ongoing legal battle

China-based U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group Inc. purchased the building in 2008 and has since been an entrenched in a legal battle over the city’s desire to demolish the building.

City leaders announced raze orders for the former Northridge Mall in April 2019, saying that repairs needed to bring the buildings up to code far exceeded the assessed value of the property. But Black Spruce challenged those orders sending the dispute to the Milwaukee Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of the city.

Black Spruce appealed that decision in 2020, and in March of this year the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, siding in part with the company, sent the case back to the circuit court.

In 2020, the city estimated the cost to repair the three buildings that Black Spruce owns – 8221 W. Northridge Mall Road, 9009 N. Granville Station Road and 9109 N. Granville Station Road – at $11.7 million, without including all expected costs such as abatement of hazardous materials.

Attempts to reach the Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office as well as the Department of Neighborhood Services, were unsuccessful.

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Cara covers nonprofits, healthcare and education for BizTimes. 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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