A city of Milwaukee panel has declared an order to tear down the former Northridge Mall is "reasonable." But the Chinese firm that owns the huge property on the northwest side says its fight to keep the buildings intact may not be over.
The Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services issued what's called a raze order against the mall three months ago, saying the long-closed complex is dilapidated, frequently vandalized, and meets a raze order standard of needing repairs that exceed half the assessed value of the property.
Mall owners, Black Spruce Enterprise Group, challenged the order Thursday before the city’s Standards and Appeals Commission. Black Spruce's attorney Eric Hatchell said the company has stepped up its efforts to fix the property and eventually open it as an Asian merchandise center. He testified that the city of Milwaukee has been slow to tell Black Spruce exactly what needs to be repaired beyond electrical, heating, and air conditioning.
"You're going to see new information today that they now have new costs that we never saw until today. We had no opportunity to review this information. We had no opportunity to prepare to defend against this information,” Hatchell said.
The commission discussed giving Black Spruce another month to digest the new documents from the city, at least for one of three buildings in the raze order. But then the members decided to hear from city officials, including neighborhood services inspector Tim Bolger.
He began a long list of problems this way: "What would be the food court windows are all broken. That's about a 500 square foot wall of windows. Every one of those is broken. Every door, on the exterior of the building is either pried open, welded shut, or attempted to be pried open."
It was enough for Standards and Appeals Commissioner Ron Roberts to propose finding the raze order reasonable for all three structures at Northridge.
"There is a community out there that is seething from the condition of this property, and they're looking for the city to do something to expedite their concerns, and address this property as quickly as possible,” he said.
Roberts said he expects Black Spruce to now go to court to try to block demolishing of the mall. After the vote, attorney Hatchell told reporters that a lawsuit is possible.
"Black Spruce wants to be a team player with the city. It's just disappointing the city doesn't want to seem to participate in any sort of further discussion and they remain committed to tearing it down. So, we'll let the legal process play out and we'll continue from here,” Hatchell said.
City of Milwaukee officials say Black Spruce has had several years to move ahead with renovating Northridge, and has failed to do so.
Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.
Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.