Judge enforces Northridge Mall raze orders

A judge enforced the raze orders for the former Northridge Mall during a motion hearing Monday, Oct. 3. The blighted property has been the site of several break-ins and suspected arsons.

The ruling was the latest in the saga of the abandoned property owned by U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group. Milwaukee issued raze orders in 2019. Black Spruce sued the city to block the orders, held up in appeals ever since.

Judge William Sosnay on Monday dismissed the petition by the plaintiff, Black Spruce, for a restraining order against Milwaukee to halt the city's raze orders, saying Northridge needs to be torn down.

Back in August, Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski called out the owner for not following a court order to maintain and keep the building secure. 

"If I sound irritated tonight, then you’re hearing me," said Lipski on Aug. 10, at the scene of the fourth Northridge fire in three-plus weeks. "These men and these women have to go into this building, repeatedly, putting their lives in extreme risk because it has not been properly secured."

Lipski was among those testifying during Monday's motion hearing. Also testifying was Li Yang, Black Spruce executive.

Northridge Mall

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Judge Sosnay ordered the city's raze orders to be enforced and daily fines of $2,000 to continue until necessary upgrades are made. Black Spruce was ordered to pay $109,000 in fines by the end of October.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Monday he hopes this time will be different.

"For far too long, Northridge Mall, the former mall, has been an eyesore on the northwest side," said Mayor Johnson. "We’ll continue to use every resource that we have in order to make sure that we hold the property owner accountable."

Northridge Mall property, Milwaukee

What led to Monday's hearing?

On Aug. 15, Judge Sosnay found Black Spruce in contempt of court, ordering the group to secure the building or pay a daily fine. The judge said the four fires in a month created a major public safety issue. Judge Sosnay ordered Black Spruce to adhere to its 2019 agreement with the city to keep the property secure.

The judge set a mid-August deadline for the owners to hire 24/7 security, clean up the site and board up any doors or windows, with $2,000 daily fines for noncompliance.

City leaders who went inside the mall on deadline day said no obvious changes had been made. Huge chunks of the fence were still missing.

As of Sept. 2, the judge said the owners still had not complied with the order, noting that "the Court cannot physically go out and board the windows or put up a fence or haul the debris away, but through my order, I expect that to be done. If it's not, the Court will enforce it."

At this point, Judge Sosnay set the Oct. 3 hearing to decide whether the properties should be torn down.

The mall opened 40 years ago, but it closed in 2003. 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.