Last updated on October 5th, 2022 at 02:54 pm
U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc., the China-based owner of the blighted former Northridge Mall in Milwaukee must demolish the parts of the former shopping center that it owns.
Following a three-hour motion hearing Monday morning in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Judge William Sosnay ruled that all restraining orders enjoining the city from enforcing its raze orders against the vacant, former shopping mall be lifted.
The ruling follows more than three years of court battles in the case, including a Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling finding that the city had not properly calculated the cost of repairing what has for decades been a vacant building when it issued its raze orders in 2019.
On Monday, following testimony from a city inspector and others, Sosnay found that the current repair estimates for the structure, which are now based on the city standards for vacant buildings, more than statutorily outweighed the value of the three buildings that U.S. Black Spruce owns at the mall – three structures collectively assessed at less than $82,000. Black Spruce purchased the buildings in 2008 for $6 million with the hope of turning the property into an Asian marketplace.
Sosnay emphasized his concerns about the safety risks the buildings now pose to the public, including risks to firefighters who fought four blazes at the former mall this summer, encountering broken glass, and heavy amounts of debris along the walls that made fighting the blazes particularly dangerous. He also mentioned the risk to people who continue to enter the unsecured building, which could include the homeless as the weather turns colder.
“It’s time that the rubber meets the road here. This cannot continue,” Sosnay said, directing his comments to U.S. Black Spruce Group’s executive direct, Li Yang.
Yang, who said she lives in Vancouver, Canada, was the only representative from the Chinese company to appear in court.
Fines and Financial Info
Sosnay also ordered the company to pay $109,000 to the court by Oct. 31 or face a judgment that the city could use to place a lien against the Northridge Mall buildings owned by the company. The bulk of the $109,000 is $92,000 in fines Black Spruce has racked up since Aug. 15.
The court has been fining the company $2,000 per day for each day that the mall has been left unsecured and without 24-hour security. Sosnay said Monday that those fines would continue until those orders have been satisfied.
“I expect that those fines will be paid. This court will not allow this to go on indefinitely. The court is very concerned with the safety hazard that exists but for the citizenry of the community, but certainly for first responders,” Sosnay said.
The judge further ordered that Black Spruce provide the current names of and addresses of all members of Black Spruce, which includes a president and three directors. He also ordered that Ms. Yang and her attorney provide the court with a financial statement for Black Spruce.
“And all of this information is to be provided to the court in one week. I can’t emphasize enough, that I expect these orders to be carried out. If they are not, the court will take every means available to make sure that they are,” said Sosnay firmly.
“I am not sure what Black Spruce’s intent is, but having paid $6 million for the property I would have expected that something would have been done, certainly not letting it reach the condition is has now,” Sosnay said. “It will not go on any longer. I will do everything I can to see to that.”
Asked by Christopher Kloth what the court would be “looking for” in the financial statements for Black Spruce, Sosnay fired back: “I want to know the resources that Black Spruce has, because if I get an excuse that they can’t afford to pay this, or they can’t afford to do something, I want to see it.”
“I stated before, you’re dealing with the wrong judge here. I’m not trying to be unreasonable,” Sosnay added. “The contempt order was issued on Aug. 15. It’s been ignored. This court will not accept that.”