Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Sosnay won’t rule on a City of Milwaukee request for deed and title to the former Northridge Mall until the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rules on yet another challenge to a raze order originally issued against the property in 2019.
But Sosnay also won’t stay his October decision to lift an injunction that had been in place on that raze order, either.
That much was clear Friday morning following yet another hearing in the city’s battle to raze the building, and, most recently, wrest it from the hands of its owner, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group of China.
“I want to make it very clear: The raze order is still in effect, until such time as this court, or more importantly, the Court of Appeals says otherwise,” Sosnay said, chiefly addressing Li Yang, executive director for U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group. “The court is not going to revisit whether or not this property should be razed. I don’t pay for real estate twice. In other words, we have gone over this issue.”
This latest chapter in the case, comes after U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group surprised Sosnay and city officials last month by announcing it had inked a sale agreement for the property with local investment firm Phoenix Investors, LLC.
At the March 17 hearing, Sosnay urged the city to make time to meet with U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group and Phoenix Investors
, so officials could get a better understanding off what the would-be buyers hope to do with the property.
That meeting took place on March 27, said attorney Odalo J. Ohiku, appearing for the city on Friday, and apparently did not change the city’s position that the building should be demolished.
Although Ohiku and Sosnay both acknowledged work that Phoenix Investors had done to shore up the property, such as boarding up entry points, installing cameras and removing debris, Sosnay emphasized that the court’s position had not changed.
Although the proposed sale agreement will remain under seal until at least Wednesday, letters in the case file indicate that the offer to buy the land, at least as it stood on March 16, is contingent on the city waving its rights to collect back taxes on the property, as well as any liens and forfeitures.
In a March 29 letter to Phoenix Investors, assistant city attorney Theresa Montag wrote that the city would not be willing to waive any rights to the roughly $1 million in outstanding property taxes on the property, or the roughly $448,000 in fines charged by the court for U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises’ alleged failure to properly secure the building and provide 24-hour, on-site security over the past several months.
The letter also states that the city would not support a re-development of the mall property “anchored by industrial storage with light industrial uses.”
“After years of neglect under Black Spruce’s ownership, the city’s primary aim is to anchor the properties with a catalytic project based on a holistic approach consistent with the needs and goals of the community,” Montag wrote.
The city is currently in the process of reviewing contractors' bids to raze the part of the mall it owns -- the former Boston Store.
While the parties await a Court of Appeals decision, Sosnay’s court will continue to monitor whether the mall is being properly secured by U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group or by Phoenix Investors.
Also, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises must still submit a formal demolition plan for the property should the Court of Appeals find the raze order enforceable. Sosnay had previously ordered the company to provide such a plan to the court, but so far, they have not complied.
“This thing has gone on far too long and once we ultimately get a decision from the Court of Appeals, I don’t want to wait another six months or a year before we can proceed,” he said. “I am not taking my foot off the gas pedal.”
The next circuit court hearing in the case has been set for June 20.
No hearings have been set in the Court of Appeals case.