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Milwaukee officials issue raze order for Northridge Mall.

Byline: Nate Beck,

Milwaukee is moving to force the owners of the dilapidated Northridge Mall to tear down the long-abandoned shopping center, a step officials hope would lead to redevelopment.

The city's Department of Neighborhood Services placed a raze order on the property on Thursday, compelling the building owner either to demolish the mall within 20 days or file an appeal. A Chinese investors group called U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group has owned the mall for years and had once had plans to turn it into an Asian market. Instead, though, the property has festered since closing in 2003, become a site for vandalism, illegal dumping and other ills and a cause of endless frustration for local officials.

With the filing of its raze order, the city has now set in motion a legal process that could lead to the mall's demolition. Tom Mishefske, department commissioner, said knocking the structure down could cost between $10 million and $12 million.

"There is no other way to describe this other than a sad story," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett during an event at the mall on Thursday.

By law, the city officials are allowed to issue a raze order for a property when they learn that the cost to repair it would exceed 50% of its assessed value. Mishefske said city officials have estimated, using inspections of the mall's exterior, that the price tag for needed repairs at the Northridge property would come to $6 million. That estimate, which doesn't take into account the cost of inspecting the property's interior, is well above the mall's $81,000 assessed value.

The property owner, Black Spruce, can now has the right to respond to the city's raze order with a formal challenge. Doing so would start a legal process that could lead to a dispute in court.

Mishefske said if the Black Spruce investors should prove unwilling to pay the cost of demolishing the property, the city could knock the structure down itself and tack the resulting costs onto the mall's tax bill. If the investment group then failed to pay its tax bill, the city could take over the property using foreclosure procedures.

It's unclear, however, where the city would find the money to pay for the demolition upfront. Barett said city officials are still weighing their options.

The city's raze order comes after city officials announced plans to take down a vacant Boston Store next to the Northridge Mall to make way for a light industrial development or other uses. William Penzey, owner of the spice retailier Penzeys Spices, gave the property to the city in 2017 after abandoning plans to convert it into a site for his business.

City officials are seeking a $250,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to help pay for the cost of demolishing the former Boston Store building.

The privately owned mall, however, has seen few signs of progress in the past decade. When Black Spruce investors bought the property in 2008 for $6 million from another Chinese investment group, they told city officials they would turn it into a market to sell Chinese-made goods.

But the firm hasn't acted on these plans. Meanwhile, vandals have broken into the property to steal scrap metal, leading local officials to worry that the continued presence of the vacant structure was harming the neighborhood.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis said she met recently with Black Spruce officials but never heard them commit to plans to either demolish or redevelop the property.

"The mall has been the bane of my existence. It's the 900-pound elephant in the room in my district," Lewis said. "It has been nothing short of an upheaval and a hazard."

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Publication:The Daily Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Apr 11, 2019
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