Northridge Mall in Milwaukee, WI – Legal Tussles and Demolition: What’s Next for This Mall?

Northridge Mall: A Brief Overview

Northridge Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, opened its doors on August 14, 1972. Developed by Taubman Centers, it was once a bustling retail space occupying 1,100,000 square feet with four anchor stores and two floors.

However, the mall faced a decline and eventually closed in 2003. U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group Inc currently owns the property.

Initial Success and Anchor Tenants

The grand opening of Northridge Mall took place in August 1972, following the opening of its sister mall, Southridge Mall, in 1970. Both malls were financed and owned by Senator Herb Kohl and were part of the Taubman Centers.

The original anchor stores of Northridge Mall included JCPenney, Sears, Boston Store, and Gimbels. Over time, Gimbels was sold to Marshall Field’s, then H. C. Prange Co., and finally Younkers, which closed in 1999.

Northridge Mall was designed as a regional center, featuring a two-level structure with four anchors and a United Artists Theatres triplex, later expanded to six screens.

The mall was jointly developed alongside the neighboring Northridge Lakes development, a residential venture featuring a blend of innovative multi-family dwellings.

This was done in tandem with a planned northern beltline freeway that would have connected the area to the rest of Milwaukee.

Decline and Closure

The decline of Northridge Mall can be attributed to several factors, including the cancellation of the north freeway, increased crime in the surrounding area, and the early 2000s recession. In addition, the freeway revolts of the 1970s left the mall disconnected from the rest of Milwaukee, making it less accessible for shoppers.

The mall’s clientele dwindled as suburban shoppers opted for other options with easier freeway access, such as Mayfair, Brookfield Square, and newly developed power center shopping options in Mequon, Menomonee Falls, and Grafton.

The Northridge Lakes development faced challenges as the local real estate market favored single-family detached homes over apartment developments. Ultimately, the mall shut its doors in 2003.

Northridge Mall Milwaukee
Northridge Mall Milwaukee – Photo by Cameron Casey from Pexels

Revitalization Efforts

Although the mall remains vacant, there have been attempts at revitalization. For instance, the former Sears store was demolished, making way for a Menards home improvement store and a Pick ‘n Save supermarket to take its place.

Furthermore, a Value City furniture store set up shop in part of the former Boston Store building, only to close its doors in May 2009.

William Penzey of Penzeys Spices announced plans to purchase the mall for use in Penzeys Spices operations in August 2013. However, the Chinese investment company U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group retained ownership by making a last-minute payment to halt a foreclosure auction.

The firm claims to have plans for an extensive Asian marketplace mall and office complex, yet no proposals or permit approvals have been presented to Milwaukee’s city council.

Demolition Order and Legal Battles

On April 11, 2019, the City of Milwaukee issued a demolition order for the mall, which a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge approved on May 13.

City officials have claimed that Black Spruce only pays owed back taxes when the city begins to take action against them.

During the summer of 2022, a series of arson fires took place around the mall, leading Milwaukee County Judge William Sosnay to hold Black Spruce in contempt of court.

In addition, he ordered them to secure the property or incur a daily fine of $2,000. As of September 2, 2022, Black Spruce met at least $26,000 in fines.

Northridge Mall’s Post-Closure Usage

Though the mall remains vacant, it has been used for various events since its closure. Notably, the mall has been utilized for airsoft events featuring famous players like Airsoft Alfonse.

In 2018, MIR Tactical, an airsoft store and event promoter, rented out the mall to host an airsoft game called the “Milwaukee Offensive.”

However, the future of Northridge Mall remains uncertain as legal battles between the City of Milwaukee and the U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group continue.

The city is determined to address the abandoned mall’s safety hazards, while the property owner faces mounting fines and pressures to secure the property.

Summary: The Saga of Northridge Mall

Once a bustling retail space, Northridge Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has experienced a tumultuous journey since its opening in 1972.

Initially enjoying great success with four anchor stores and a thriving regional presence, the mall faced a steady decline due to various factors, such as the cancellation of the north freeway, increased crime in the area, and the early 2000s recession. As a result, the mall was eventually shuttered in 2003.

Despite numerous revitalization attempts and demolition orders, the mall remains vacant. In addition, it has become the subject of legal disputes between the City of Milwaukee and its current owner, U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group.

As the battle over the mall’s future continues, the property has been occasionally utilized for airsoft events and faces ongoing challenges, including a recent string of arson fires. The fate of Northridge Mall hangs in the balance as the city and property owner vie for control over the once-iconic shopping destination.

Avatar of Spencer Walsh

I'm Spencer Walsh, a professional traveler who loves to help people discover new places and learn about different cultures. I've traveled worldwide, from Europe to Asia and Africa to South America. My favorite thing about traveling is getting lost because it allows me to discover unexpected gems—finding a hidden museum or stumbling upon a beautiful park in the middle of the city.

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