The city of Milwaukee has issued orders to knock down most of what's left of the former Northridge Mall. Mayor Tom Barrett says the site owned by a Chinese-based company has become a public safety hazard.
But, any removal of the buildings will take time, and replacement plans aren't clear.
Northridge Mall — on Milwaukee's far northwest side — closed 16 years ago. Part of the site has been redeveloped. But most of the buildings remain vacant. Almost all are owned by a Chinese firm, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group.
City of Milwaukee officials have been urging Black Spruce to develop the property, but say the company has refused to move forward. Meanwhile, Northridge-area Alderperson Chantia Lewis says vandalism has increased.
"Every single day, there's been a break-in or someone dumping something illegally. Truly, it's been insane. Now, we have more and more kids getting access into it and there are signs of a homeless population, because they've been burning up shopping carts inside the building. It's definitely a safety hazard," Lewis says,
Tom Mishefske, of the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services, adds that the former mall now needs an estimated $6 million in repairs to restore it to useful condition.
"There's significant damage to the mechanical systems. The exterior is showing signs of distress. The freeze-thaw cycle has compromised the roof to a point where it really would require the entire roof to be replaced," Mishefske says.
But he says the three parcels of property — about 900,000 square feet — of most concern to the city, have an assessed value of a little more than $80, 000. Under a state law that calculates the cost of repairs and property values, the city says it has the authority to take the step it announced at a Thursday news conference: issue three orders to raze and remove the buildings.
Barrett says he's also concerned about future liability costs.
"The real issue that put this over the top was the concern about the health and safety of individuals who are coming in here illegally, and what would happen if something horrible would happen to someone who came in here illegally. Who's going to be responsible for that, and what are the damages going to be?" Barrett says.
He says Black Spruce Enterprise Group has 20 days to respond to the raze orders. The mayor says it would cost a lot of money to tear down the buildings and clear the land. He says if Black Spruce refuses to pay, the city would go ahead, and then put the cost on the company's property tax bill.
Barrett and Lewis say it's too early to say what might go into the former Northridge property. But, they say the vacant buildings have impeded redevelopment.
Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.