Milwaukee Department of City Development Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux is encouraging the owner of the former Northridge Mall to convert the site into an industrial park. Marcoux made those thoughts known in a letter, obtained by BizTimes Milwaukee, which he sent recently to Wu Li, the president of Toward Enterprise Group, which owns the majority of the vacant mall.
“We have met with many of the businesses, property owners and other stakeholders in the area surrounding your property,” Marcoux said in the letter. “The general consensus has been that this location cannot support large-scale retail or a significant amount of new housing. We believe that an industrial park may be a more feasible use of the site. We have had great success on the northwest side of the city in attracting industrial users and there is demand for more industrial space in the area.”
Toward Group bought most of the former Northridge Mall in 2006. The company planned to use the property to create a marketplace where Chinese businesses could sell clothing and other wholesale items. However, that development has not come together.
In an interview, Marcoux said he wants to make sure that Toward Enterprise Group keeps an industrial park development in mind as a possible redevelopment option for the Northridge property.
“I wanted to make sure (Wu Li) was open to any potential strategy,” Marcoux said. “The city intends to help find a solution up there.”
City officials have become concerned about the Brown Deer Road corridor because major retailers there keep closing their doors. Since Northridge Mall closed in 2003, a steady stream of major retailers have left the corridor. Circuit City at 8173 W. Brown Deer Road closed in 2005. Best Buy at 8875 N. 76th St. closed in 2010. Lowe’s, at 6300 W. Brown Deer Road in Brown Deer, closed last year. Stein Gardens & Gifts, 8801 W. Brown Deer Road, closed in January. Walmart plans to close its Brown Deer Road store by the end of the year.
At one time Northridge Mall was the retail hub of the north side of the metro Milwaukee area. But today retail developments in other communities have provided major competition to the Brown Deer Road corridor.
Nevertheless, retail will still be an important component of the Brown Deer Road corridor, Marcoux said. However, the former Northridge Mall site, set back and not visible from Brown Deer Road, may need to go in a different direction, he said.
As retail continues to decline on Brown Deer Road, a shift toward industrial development, as suggested by Marcoux’s letter for the Northridge Mall site, makes sense based on market data. The metro Milwaukee area’s industrial real estate market posted significant gains in 2011. The vacancy rate fell from 8.5 percent at the end of 2010 to 7.6 percent, and the market absorbed 3 million square feet of space during the year.
Milwaukee and Brown Deer officials, the Granville-Brown Deer Chamber and others are studying the corridor to determine what its future direction should be. A consultant will be hired to analyze land use in the corridor, Marcoux said. The city’s Northwest Side Plan, which recommends residential development for the former Northridge site, probably needs to be updated, he said.
“This (Brown Deer Road) plan will evaluate market demand for industrial property in the area, outline which buildings must be demolished to create new building sites, and detail the public access and infrastructure required to re-purpose the site for industrial use,” Marcoux said in his letter to Wu Li. “Should this analysis indicate that industrial use is feasible, we would be interested in working with you to undertake appropriate development and market the property to industrial users.”
The Pick ‘n Save and Menards stores that were built on a portion of the former Northridge Mall site seem to be doing well and will probably remain, Marcoux said.
“We want to know what (Wu Li) wants to do,” Marcoux said. “We want to plant the seed that we would like to get something done over there.”