MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee County judge found the owner of the abandoned Northridge Mall property, Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc., in contempt of court on Monday, Aug. 15, ordering the group to secure the building or pay a daily fine. The judge said four fires in a month have created a major public safety issue.
Judge William Sosnay ordered Black Spruce to adhere to its 2019 agreement with the city to keep the property secure. Black Spruce will have until close of business Friday to prove it has 24/7 security at the site and board up any open doors or windows. Judge Sosnay said if Black Spruce fails to comply, owners will face a $2,000 daily fine.
"This has gone on far too long," said Judge Sosnay. "It needs to come to some conclusion."
Fire at Milwaukee's former Northridge Mall
The city says the property is a safety hazard. Intruders started four fires there between July 16 and Aug. 10. In 2019, a maintenance worker was electrocuted on site. Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski testified Monday that he "absolutely, hands down" has concerns about his firefighters entering the building, concerns he expressed in a frustrated news conference at the scene of the latest Northridge fire.
Black Spruce has kept the property vacant for nearly two decades. Police say vandals are getting in through broken fences and smashed windows.
"I find they are aware of the condition, and they apparently have done little or nothing to curtail this," said Judge Sosnay.
Lipski said the roof is deteriorating.
Fire at Northridge Mall on Aug. 10
"There is evidence of numerous fires which we did not ever get called for," said Lipski.
Judge Sosnay said there's been no security on site. In early June 2019, Black Spruce released renderings with plans to turn the property into an Asian market, hoping to reopen the facility in spring 2021, but those plans never materialized.
Milwaukee issued raze orders in 2019. Black Spruce sued the city to block the orders, held up in appeals ever since.
The building may end up coming down soon anyway. Sosnay will hear from both parties about the status of the raze orders Oct. 3.
Fire at Northridge Mall
Attorney Christopher Kloth, representing Black Spruce, called no witnesses and had no comment after Monday’s court appearance. He told the court Black Spruce is behind on property tax payments.
When asked whether Judge Sosnay's ruling Monday was a win for the city, Tearman Spencer, Milwaukee city attorney, said, "We discussed the issue today, and we have a ways to go."