After little to no changes at the property, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Sosnay on Monday ordered U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group, the owner of the shuttered Northridge Mall in Milwaukee, to submit a written proposal spelling out how the Chinese-based company plans to raze the complex.
Sosnay also ordered that the main members of U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises – all but one of whom live in China – to appear in person in court on Jan. 24. If they do not appear, Sosnay said he could find the owners in contempt and issue sanctions against them.
The order comes about two and half months after Sosnay originally lifted an injunction blocking the city from enforcing a 2019 raze order – an order the company has appealed to the Wisconsin State Court of Appeals.
Although somewhat hamstringed by the appeal, Sosnay said he would “continue to do everything … within (his) power to pursue and to enforce the orders of the (circuit) court,” especially given the public safety concerns, and fires that have been set at Northridge by vandals.
Several fires have taken place at the blighted, vacant mall this year, including a small fire that took place on Sunday night.
“I think the citizens who live in that area, and this entire community, deserve some kind of response here,” Sosnay said.
Throughout the hearing, Sosnay kept asking both U.S. Black Spruce Enterprises Group's attorney and the city’s attorney what their “final end game” was?
When asked by Sosnay if the city had made any plans around acquiring or razing the building, the city’s attorney in the case stated: “At this time the city unfortunately does not have the funds to raze the mall. Our findings approximate the cost to raze the buildings would be $15 million."
“We are hoping that the current contempt of court that they are under will incentivize them to raze the buildings,” the attorney added.
Sosnay’s order follows more than three years of court battles in the case, including an earlier Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling finding that the city had not properly calculated the cost of repairing what has for decades been a vacant building when it issued its raze orders in 2019.
In his October ruling, Sosnay found that the current repair estimates for the structure, which are now based on the city standards for vacant buildings, more than statutorily outweighed the value of the three buildings that U.S. Black Spruce owns at the mall – three structures collectively assessed at less than $82,000. Black Spruce purchased the buildings in 2008 for $6 million with the hope of turning the property into an Asian marketplace.
The company currently owes the court hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to comply with court orders to property shore up the building and provide 24-7 security on the premises.
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