The City of Milwaukee issued a raze or restore order on April 11 to the owner of the former Northridge Mall building, a move that will lead to the removal of the long-vacant structure.

Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderwoman Chantia Lewis of the 9th District stated that the site, which is owned by a company based in China, has become a public safety hazard and a blight to the area residents.

“The Chinese company that owns the building has refused to secure the building or make repairs, and since 2017 we have seen repeated trespassing and vandalism there,” said Alderwoman Lewis. “Thieves have stripped the HVAC and plumbing from the building, and it has become a target for graffiti vandals and homeless squatters.”

Due to size, any effort to remove the building will take time. Located in the 9th District on Milwaukee’s far northwest side, the once iconic Northridge Mall has been closed for over a decade and a half. Part of the structure has been redeveloped, but most of the space remains owned by the Chinese firm, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group. That vast section has remained vacant and become a public nuisance that threatens the health and safety of the surrounding area.

“Every single day, there’s been a break-in or someone dumping something illegally,” Alderwoman Lewis said. “Now, we have more and more kids getting access into it and there are signs of a homeless population, because they’ve been burning up shopping carts inside the building.”

City of Milwaukee officials have urged Black Spruce to develop the property for the past several years, but the company has refused to move forward. Meanwhile, vandalism has increased.

“There’s significant damage to the mechanical systems, and the exterior is showing signs of distress,” said Tom Mishefske of the Department of Neighborhood Services. “The freeze-thaw cycle has compromised the roof to a point where it really would require the entire roof to be replaced.”

According to the Department of Neighborhood Services, it has been determined that the cost to repair the building exceeds 50 percent of the assessed value of the property, or require an estimated $6 million in repairs to restore it to useful condition. Therefore, the repairs are presumed unreasonable and the city determined that the building must be razed and removed.

“The real issue that put this over the top was the concern about the health and safety of individuals who are trespassing here, and if something horrible happened to someone who came in here illegally,” said Mayor Barrett. “Who is going to be responsible for that, and what are the damages going to be?”

The Black Spruce Enterprise Group has 20 days to respond to the raze orders. If the company refuses to comply, the city plans to go ahead and do the work. The cost would then be put on the Chinese company’s property tax bill.

“For the past two and a half years I have been working to connect developers and investors with the owner of the building, but they refuse to entertain viable proposals that could lead to a better use of the site,” added Alderwoman Lewis. “This is unacceptable and we have finally taken the necessary step of forcing the demolition of the building.

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Lee Matz