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Eyesore in Jacksonville, Fla., Finally Imploded, New Skyscraper Could Take Its Place

Wed March 09, 2022 - Southeast Edition
WJXT-TV News4Jax

The building known as downtown Jacksonville, Fla.'s most infamous eyesore finally came down on the morning of March 6.

Thousands of people from around the northeast Florida city watched the 10-second implosion that erased the building from the skyline.

The Berkman Plaza II building had been an abandoned structure on prime riverfront property along East Bay Street for more than 14 years after a construction worker was killed when a parking garage collapsed.

"I've been working on this since my first year in office and it's been hurdle after hurdle after hurdle," Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told News4Jax after the Berkman's controlled demolition. "But it's done and now we can move on."

People were lined up along the city's riverwalk from the Duval County Public Schools headquarters all the way down to the Main Street bridge to watch the building implosion from across the river.

"I think everybody is glad to see it go," said one resident, Debra Fraser.

Antrelle Brown took it all in with her husband and grandson. She hopes the pile of rubble that was left can eventually be transformed into something enjoyable for everyone who calls Jacksonville home.

Resident Dean Nix told News4Jax, "[Even if] it's a tall condo apartment building park, anything is an improvement and [in] the best interest of Jacksonville."

Nix may get his answer soon as the owner of the property has designs on building Jacksonville's highest skyscraper on the site, the TV station reported.

Demolition Came After Serious Safety Concerns

The $1.2 million demolition project came more than 14 years after construction stopped on the partially completed building in 2007. That was followed by a long series of delays in razing the structure.

That led to Curry filing emergency legislation in January to remove the Berkman Plaza II building, after which the Jacksonville City Council approved the measure.

Brian Hughes, the city's chief administrative officer, said at the time that Jacksonville was looking at dates in February to carry out the demolition, adding, "I'll say this: The next date that's advertised, it's going to be that date."

In the legislation, the city considered the condition of the structure "to be an immediate threat to the life, safety and welfare of property and citizens located near and around the structure warranting an emergency appropriation of funds necessary to pay the costs for demolition of the building without further delay."

In January 2021, the developer, PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville, received a permit to conduct a mechanical demolition using a "top-down" approach.

During that process, the contractor, Orlando's Pece of Mind Environmental Inc., "identified structural deficiencies in the building that were exacerbated by the mechanical demolition process, causing at least one of the upper floors to ‘pancake' on the floor below, which required an emergency halt to all further mechanical demolition activities," the bill said.

WJXT reported a structural engineer found corrosion of rebar and tension supports in the building, making it unstable and leaving demolition by implosion "the most appropriate option to remove the structure."

In a memo released by Park Beeler, a managing member of Riverfront Revitalizations, a target date of Jan. 8, 2022, for demolition was even considered as being "too optimistic." Beeler noted that the demolition was "far more complex than would normally have been the case" and that "No mistakes can be tolerated. There is too much at stake to take even the slightest chances."

Jacksonville's Tallest Building Could Be on Horizon

News4JAX learned March 2 that Beeler now wants to put the tallest skyscraper in Jacksonville on the same spot as the former Berkman II building.

His company has come under fire for delaying the demolition and for not paying some subcontractors, two reasons why the city took over the project.

In an exclusive interview with News4Jax, Beeler said those problems have since been taken care of and that his company plans to repay the demolition cost to Jacksonville.

"The city has agreed as soon as the site is cleared, they will file a lien and we will have 90 days to resolve that lien," he explained.

When asked if the timeframe would be problematic, Beeler responded, "No." He gave the same answer when asked about other liens by former contractors.

The original designs that Riverfront Revitalizations had for the site included apartments, condominiums and some retail space. Those plans have now changed slightly, and the developer is now looking to erect the highest tower in the city.

"[It] will be residential, consisting of apartments and condominiums and possibly a hotel," Beeler told the Jacksonville TV station. "At the ground level, [we are planning to have] a restaurant and other retail components, and, if we can get an agreement, a specialty grocery."

He noted that he hopes to soon release the project's new renderings.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has already invested over $2.5 million and, if approved, the entire project could run over $150 million, Beeler explained, but he added that he realizes there are many hurdles to overcome first.

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