$15M grant announced to redevelop Milwaukee's Northridge Mall property, but uncertainty remains thanks to legal challenge

NOW: $15M grant announced to redevelop Milwaukee’s Northridge Mall property, but uncertainty remains thanks to legal challenge

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers on Friday, Dec. 8 announced a $15 million grant has been awarded to the city of Milwaukee for their efforts to redevelop the former Northridge Mall complex.

It means the city of Milwaukee could be one step closer to tearing down the blighted property that has been a danger and an eyesore for decades.

But a legal battle with the property owners means the timing is uncertain. The company that owns the property is fighting a raze order, and that could impact the grant.

If it were up to the city, the structures would have been taken down years ago. Mayor Cavalier Johnson said they're an eyesore, an economic drag on the city, and they're dangerous, sometimes deadly.

At a news conference Friday, Johnson said, "We're taking a huge, huge step forward."

Johnson and city leaders said the new money will finally move the Northridge Mall property in a positive direction.

Benjamin Timm is the redevelopment authority for the city of Milwaukee. He said, "We'll need to demolish the structures behind us, do some asbestos abatement, and then do some site work. And then some utility realignment."

“This grant is only the latest example of how we are connecting the dots with our local and federal partners and working to build stronger, safer, and more prosperous communities across Wisconsin,” said Gov. Evers in a news release. “This project will remove a blighted property, address safety hazards, and clear the way for the site to be redeveloped into a significant asset for the community, bolstering growth and development for Milwaukee and our state.”

Once one of the premier malls in Wisconsin, the Northridge Mall shuttered in 2002 and has been vacant on the city's northwest side since.

Johnson said, "People have died in this building."

A combination of disrepair and trespassers have destroyed the inside and made it unsafe. 9th District Alderwoman Larresa Taylor has been inside the mall recently, and told us it, " Just looks like a desert. I would equate it to an apocalypse almost happening. It's just… there's nothing in there. Everything is just in shambles."

And dozens of fires have broken out over the years.

After responding to one fire in August of 2022, Fire Chief Aaron Lipski vented his frustration with the property, saying, "I'm not standing here and continuing to commit my firefighters to put their lives at risk. They have families." He added they were, "Putting their life at extreme risk because it has not been properly secured. It should've been razed a long time ago."

The grant money must be allocated by the end of 2024. The Milwaukee Common Council is expected to approve that part of the plan over the next few weeks.

But the money must be spent by the end of 2026, and that could present a challenge because Johnson is unsure when demolition can actually begin.

He said Friday, "There are still the legal challenges that we are actively working through."

The property owner -Chinese company Black Spruce- is appealing a raze order, delaying movement at the site. Black Spruce is currently being held in contempt for not securing the site.

Johnson said, "This has tested the patience of a lot of folks that I mentioned. It's also tested the patience of folks who make decisions in the courthouse, as well."

City leaders hope their plans -and the grant money- will help everyone move on.

"It has caused the public safety challenges, it has been a blight for as long as it has been, and I think that folks are ready to move to the next chapter," said Johnson.

According to a news release, the funds awarded by Evers will enable the city of Milwaukee to move forward with its broader revitalization effort for the area. The city had previously acquired a portion of the Northridge property, and the project will include abating environmental contaminants on the site, completing demolition work, relocating utilities, and continuing revitalization planning to help restore the property to productive use.

“I greatly appreciate the governor’s allocation of resources to address this significant problem,” said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “The property is a danger to our firefighters and trespassers. It is a deteriorating building that drags down the surrounding neighborhood. I look forward to finally solving the safety and blight issues associated with this property.”

The newly announced grant to the city of Milwaukee will be funded using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

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