Northridge Mall owners, city make arguments in court hearing over raze order

City officials say owners have not made good on redevelopment promises

The former Northridge Mall on Milwaukee's northwest side.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:31 pm

The owners of the former Northridge Mall on Milwaukee’s far northwest side say the city’s order to raze the mall buildings is unreasonable and arbitrary.

Attorneys representing both the owners and the city stated their cases and began hearing from witnesses to open up court proceedings on Tuesday. The hearings are taking place at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and are being overseen by Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge William Pocan.

In April, the city announced it was issuing raze orders for the Black Spruce-owned properties. The orders were upheld by Milwaukee’s Standards and Appeals Commission in July before Black Spruce decided to take the city to court.

Mark Foley, a lawyer with von Briesen & Roper who is representing Black Spruce, said the city’s raze orders were not reasonable given the mall’s sheer size and the redevelopment opportunity it presents.

“It is rare that such a huge redevelopment is ordered razed without warning,” he said. “It is rare that such a huge development is ordered razed without a list of things that the city demands to be done and an opportunity to do them.”

Milwaukee assistant city attorney Nicole Larsen argued that the mall buildings have sat derelict for years while their owners, China-based U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group Inc., have not delivered on promises to redevelop them.

The ownership group has in at least two separate instances shared plans to turn the former mall into an Asian marketplace. They most recently released renderings in May depicting the redevelopment plans. They appeared similar, if not identical, to those Black Spruce presented to the city about three years ago.

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. A fourth building, the former Boston Store, is owned by the city and is being demolished.

For most of the morning, Larsen questioned Tim Bolger, construction inspector for Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services, about the condition of the Northridge buildings.

Bolger was responsible for investigating the buildings and determining whether their condition met the city’s standards for issuing a raze order. The city can require a building be demolished if the estimated costs to bring those buildings up to code exceed 50% of the buildings’ assessed value.

Among the issues Bolger found with the building included: graffiti, missing exterior building materials, broken loading dock doors, boarded-up or broken entryways, flooring in need of repair or replacement, piles of rubbish in parking lots and the presence of materials that likely contain asbestos.

According to city records, the three parcels are assessed at roughly $881,000. The cost of the repairs are in the millions of dollars. Those estimates don’t include all the work that would need to be done to bring the building up to code, such as replacement of windows, doors and flooring, said Bolger.

Pocan called for a break in the hearings at noon. Black Spruce and its attorneys will be given the chance to question Bolger later in the day. More witnesses from both sides were expected to be called to the stand as well.

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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.