Letter from attorney for owners of Northridge says they'll appeal city's raze order

MILWAUKEE -- Foley & Lardner LLP., the law firm representing U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc. (Black Spruce) on April 29 sent a letter to the City of Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services' commissioner -- indicating the owners plan to appeal the city's raze order for Northridge Mall.

City leaders, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, announced on April 11 the former mall at 76th and Brown Deer Road would be torn down in 20 days because they said it's not safe -- with walls failing and the entire roof needing to be replaced. City leaders said the owners wouldn't secure the building, and city officials said they don't have the resources to keep people out. Mayor Barrett said the owners, a Chinese investment group, not only failed to repair and secure the property, but also had not been in contact with the city for months. Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis noted trespassing, vandalism and theft had been on the rise since December 2017 -- when a YouTube star filmed a video inside the vacant building.

Northridge Mall

The Department of Neighborhood Services issued three raze orders to the owners of the property, citing the vandalized, dilapidated and out of repair property. The DNS and Mayor Barrett said the work required to repair the building would far exceed the value of the building. The mayor said essentially, nothing happened on the property for 10 years. Boston Store left in 2003. In 2006, Value City Furniture left. In 2008, it was sold by one Chinese investment group to another. It was sold to the Chinese investors for $6 million with hope of transforming the property -- but that never happened. The mayor cited concerns about the health and safety of people who come to the 900,000 square foot property illegally.

City leaders said the cost of the demolition would fall on the ownership group, and said if they didn't take action, the city would, and the cost would be passed onto the owner's property tax bill, which they had been paying.

Northridge Mall

The letter from Foley & Lardner, representing Black Spruce, read as follows:

"Dear Commissioner Mishefske:

Foley & Lardner LLP represents U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group, Inc. ("Black Spruce"). I write regarding the City's Order to Raze and Remove Building dated April 11, 2019 ("the Raze Order") concerning 9101 N. Granville Station Rd. ("the Northridge Property"). The Raze Order states that the City has concluded that repairs to the Northridge Property are "presumed unreasonable, and therefore, the building must be razed and removed."

As a preliminary matter, Black Spruce shares the City's frustrations regarding the vandalism at the Northridge Property. Black Spruce has made significant investment to address these issues, including adding additional private security and maintenance at the property. The company is currently pursuing additional security and camera systems to help additionally address these issues.

Black Spruce disagrees with the City's conclusion that its property can be razed against its wishes or that any repairs that could be made are "presumed unreasonable." Black Spruce will file a formal appeal of the Raze Order to the Standards and Appeals Commission. The filing of the appeal will stay execution of the Raze Order pending a hearing date.

Black Spruce remains committed to the City and to the Northridge Property. Black Spruce has made significant progress on its plans to renovate the Northridge Property and would like an opportunity to share these plans and developments with the City in person. During this meeting, BLack Spruce can update the City on its projected timetable and further development plans for the Northridge Propety. Black Spruce wants to work collaboratively with the City and would prefer joint discussion instead of contested litigation regarding whether the City has met the requirements of Wisconsin law allowing it to raze the Northridge Property against Black Spruce's desires.

A team from Black Spruce is planning to visit Milwaukee in late May and we welcome the opportunity to meet with City officials. If the City accepts the invitation, I will follow up with potential meeting dates once final travel plans are confirmed by our clients."

Northridge Mall

A spokesman said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis did not have a statement on this matter Thursday, May 2.