Judge orders demolition of former Northridge Mall

Property's owner challenged city raze orders in court

The former Northridge Mall on Milwaukee's northwest side.

Last updated on May 14th, 2020 at 01:01 pm

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge has sided with the city of Milwaukee in its orders that the former Northridge Mall be razed.

In a decision handed down Wednesday, Judge William Pocan determined the city’s raze orders were reasonable and that the former mall buildings be immediately demolished by their owner, China-based U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group Inc.

The longtime vacant mall on Milwaukee’s far northwest side has deteriorated over the years, and had been a hot spot for dumping, break-ins and vandalism. Black Spruce owns three separate buildings totaling roughly 883,000 square feet located at 8221 W. Northridge Mall Road, 9009 N. Granville Station Road and 9109 N. Granville Station Road.

In April 2019, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services ordered the buildings be torn down due to their condition. Department officials said the repairs required to bring the mall buildings up to code would cost more than 50% of the assessed value of the property itself, the threshold at which such demolition orders can be handed down.

U.S. Black Spruce took the city to court, arguing the raze orders were arbitrary and unreasonable, given the mall’s sheer size and the redevelopment opportunity it presents.

In his ruling, Pocan disagreed with that argument and said the ordered demolition needs to move forward.

According to court records, the city estimates the cost to repair the three building totals at least $11.7 million, without including all expected costs such as abatement of hazardous materials. The assessed value of the 9009 building is $81,100, while the other two have little to no value.

Mayor Tom Barrett said he was “very pleased” with the decision.

“The dilapidated former mall had become a hazard, a threat to the health and safety of people in the immediate vicinity,” he said in a statement. “I appreciate all the efforts of city departments and the City Attorney’s office to bring this court case to a conclusion. The Northridge Mall site has great potential, and I am hopeful that potential can be realized in the not-too-distant future.”

Nicole Larsen, the Milwaukee assistant city attorney who has represented the city in the court case, said U.S. Black Spruce has the right to appeal the court’s decision. Because of this, she said she does not anticipate the city will be taking any “physical action” on the mall property until the time period for appeal expires.

“Judge Pocan did order Black Spruce to immediately commence the process of razing the buildings, so I am hopeful, but not optimistic, that they will comply with the judge’s order,” Larsen said.

A lawyer representing U.S. Black Spruce did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not clear whether the group planned to appeal the ruling.

Northridge Mall, located northwest of North 76th Street and West Brown Deer Road, opened in 1972, but has largely sat vacant since the shopping center closed in 2003. The mall changed hands between Chinese investors. The current owners said they planned to create an Asian marketplace at the property, though the project has not moved forward.

In his ruling, Pocan pointed out U.S. Black Spruce has never redeveloped a property in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. It also appears the Northridge properties are the only assets of U.S. Black Spruce, Pocan added.

In 2013, Bill Penzey, owner of Penzeys Spices, attempted to buy the mall out of foreclosure, but that deal fell through when the owners paid off their delinquent bills. Penzey had intended to move his company’s corporate offices to that site and turn the area into a center for food retail, warehousing and distribution.

Penzey instead bought the Boston Store building that same year, and in 2017 gave the property to the city.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.