A Milwaukee law firm that represented the owners of the abandoned Northridge Mall, helping them to win an appeal of a city raze order, has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the company.
In a complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Friday, von Briesen & Roper s.c. says U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc. – an affiliate of Chinese firm Black Spruce that had hoped to put an Asian merchandise market in the mall – said the Maryland-based corporation has failed to honor the terms of their agreement with the law firm, and as of Friday owed the firm $153,217 in unpaid attorney fees.
U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group owns three buildings at the mall – 8221 W. Northridge Mall Road, 9009 N. Granville Station Road and 9109 N. Granville Station Road – and retained von Briesen & Roper in August 2019 to fight three raze orders issued against those buildings by the city of Milwaukee in April 2019.
The law firm represented Black Spruce through its battle in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, which saw a judge rule in favor of the city in May 2020, and the appeal process that ended with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Black Spruce and sending the case back to the circuit court in March of this year.
According to the von Briesen lawsuit, Black Spruce’s unpaid legal bills stretch from Sept. 2019 through March 2021. The law firm reportedly sent a notice of nonpayment to the company in April of this year.
A status conference in the raze order case has been set for Aug. 15 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, but attorneys from von Briesen & Roper won't be there to represent Black Spruce. The firm withdrew as legal counsel on April 21, due to Black Spruce’s failure to comply with the terms of the engagement agreement, the lawsuit states.
Attempts to reach U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc., which lists its address as a townhome in Germantown, Maryland, were unsuccessful on Monday
Dates have yet to be set in the money judgment/breach of contract case Von Briesen is pursuing against Black Sprue.
Fires likely arson
The lawsuit comes on the heels of two fires at the blighted mall in four days.
On Monday, Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski confirmed that investigators looking into the cause of the blazes have determined that they were likely arson.
According to the Milwaukee Fire Department, the fire that took place on June 19, was large enough to be considered at second-alarm blaze. That fire took more than an hour and a half to get under control.
A July 16 fire was smaller and was extinguished far more quickly.
The blighted mall has become a favorite of urban spelunkers, especially those fascinated by abandoned buildings. A post on the page for the Facebook Group “Abandoned Wisconsin” shows about 30 photos taken inside and outside of the mall earlier this month.
[caption id="attachment_552796" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] A view of the abandoned Northridge Mall from July 21, 2022. Attorneys for the mall's owner, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group, Inc., are being sued by their former attorneys for breach of contract. (Cara Spoto/BizTimes)[/caption]
On Thursday, fencing on the outskirts of the parking lot, presumably meant to keep vandals away, was trampled, torn or even open in several places. There were also several easy access points to the building, including an open door to a utility stairwell.
The mall has been vacant and unused – for commercial purposes that is – since 2003. Black Spruce purchased its buildings in 2008.
In 2020, the city estimated the cost to repair the three buildings that Black Spruce owns at $11.7 million, without including all expected costs such as abatement of hazardous materials.