Future of Northridge Mall site unclear after Chinese owner redeems mortgage

BROWN DEER (WITI) -- The future of the former Northridge Mall site is once again in question. At the Eleventh Hour on Friday, April 11th, the Chinese owner of the former Northridge Mall redeemed the mortgage on the property -- giving it control of the site three days before a scheduled Sheriff’s Auction -- and preventing Bill Penzey from acquiring it for his business, Penzeys Spices.

Northridge Mall closed in 2003. Wauwatosa-based Penzeys wanted the space -- but we have now learned the Chinese investors who own it don't plan on giving it up.

"The property was in foreclosure and it was actually scheduled to go into a Sheriff`s Auction on Monday," Stacy Vogel Davis with the Milwaukee Business Journal said.

On Friday, we learned the property owner, a Beijing-based company called U.S. Toward Enterprise Group Incorporated gave everyone a big surprise. After sitting on the property for six years, it paid off the $1.4 million debt it owed on its mortgage -- which means U.S. Toward will retain ownership.

In a statement, the company says it intends to open an "Asia commodities trade center and China convention and exhibition center later this year." It would create "a variety of products, including ceramics, silk, textiles, crafts and gifts, lighting and hardware."

Jeff Fleming, spokesperson for the Department of City Development says the last-minute save casts doubt over Bill Penzey's plans for the property. The owner of Penzeys Spices had been eyeing the property and hoped to purchase it during Monday's auction.

"There's no reason to believe the promises made today will be treated any differently than the promises before. That`s why we have sided with Bill Penzey because that project has the greatest likelihood, in our mind, of moving forward in a positive way," Fleming said.

Penzey hoped to use the space for warehousing and distribution -- with a possible retail component.

Now, the future of Northridge Mall isn't looking too spicy -- but even so, the city isn't giving up hope.

"The city is fighting to move forward with the best possible project," Fleming said.

Penzey actually owns the old Boston Store location at the Northridge site and the roads surrounding the site -- so if the Chinese group is going to move forward, it will have to work with Penzeys.