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Jax Daily Record Monday, Oct. 11, 202103:00 PM EST

Berkman II implosion moved to Nov. 14

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Council member Reggie Gaffney said nearby residents should not have to leave for the blast. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The unfinished Downtown Berkman Plaza II high-rise could be imploded Sunday, Nov. 14, according to Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney and the site developer.

In a news conference Oct. 11 in front of the 14-year-old shell structure, Gaffney and Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC co-manager Park Beeler said they are coordinating with the city and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to confirm the date.

“The 14th of November, God willing, is the day that it will all come down,” Beeler said.

Gaffney said the implosion will be between 8-9 a.m.

Demolition crews have been prepping the Berkman II for implosion by sandblasting and drilling holes in the concrete and steel structure for the explosives.

The blast cannot occur before sunrise and the time will be affected by the switch from daylight saving time to standard time, according to Gaffney.  Standard time returns at 2 a.m. Nov. 14. when clocks fall back one hour.

Gaffney said project implosion contractor Controlled Demolition Inc. will have more information on the timing and process at a future news conference. 

The Berkman II development and demolition teams coordinated the implosion date to not interfere with Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oct. 30 Florida-Georgia college football game at nearby TIAA Bank field, as well as the Nov. 4-14 Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.

Implosion impact

Gaffney said scheduling the implosion on a Sunday was to ensure as few people as possible will be Downtown.

Demolition crews have been prepping the Berkman II for implosion by sandblasting and drilling holes in the concrete and steel structure for the explosives, Gaffney said.

He said the plan is to drop the building straight down. 

City officials were concerned that the company’s first proposal to drop building debris east of the city-owned Shipyards land could release soil contamination and block the Northbank Riverwalk right of way.

Shipping containers stacked on the ground between the Berkman II and the adjacent The Plaza Condominiums are meant to keep debris in check to prevent damage.

Shipping containers stacked on the ground between the Berkman II and the adjacent The Plaza Condominiums are meant to keep debris in check to prevent damage, according to Beeler.

The demolition contractor plans to wrap the Berkman II shell with a soft fencing material before the blast to aid the drop and put up a dust and debris shield between the buildings.

Residents of The Plaza should not have to leave their building during the implosion, although people living on the east side of the building could be asked to move to the lobby “out of an abundance of caution,” Gaffney said.

He said the demolition contractor will meet with The Plaza’s condominium association to address concerns.

Gaffney, who represents the Downtown Northbank, said the blast should have little to no impact on inmates at the Duval County Jail across the street. 

“At this point, I haven’t heard anything about having to move inmates,” Gaffney said.

“Based on what little bit of knowledge that I know, (JSO leaders) feel very certain that it’s not going to be a big impact, imploding this building, to the sheriff’s department.” 

Beeler said it could take two to three weeks to sort and remove debris material from the site after the implosion.

The Berkman II as seen from the adjacent The Plaza Condominiums.

Uncertain costs 

PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC,  a company controlled by the developer, bought the land and 14-year-old building shell at 500 E. Bay St. on April 21 for $5.503 million and plans to redevelop the site.

Beeler says the implosion will increase the cost of the demolition to about $2 million, up from the $1.09 million job cost shown on the city permit portal.

When asked if the cost increase would impact Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization’s redevelopment plans for the site, Beeler said “I can’t answer that. I’ll have to let our bankers answer that question.” 

Belelr said after the news conference that he did not think it would affect the final project’s scale but would increase the  cost. 

He said the developer has been contacted by a potential user about making the tower higher, but did not identify the company. 

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization is working with KBJ Architects on plans for a 26-story tower and mid-rise building with 293 residential units and a 537-space parking garage for the property. The project, temporarily named 500 East Bay, would have 249 apartments, 40 town homes, four penthouses and 50,000 square feet of retail space, including a grocery store.

“As we get closer to the time where we finalize our development plans, the cost is likely to be significantly different than what we had originally estimated, “ Beeler said.

Riverfront Revitalization previously estimated the project at $130 million to $150 million.

Demolition troubles

The implosion initially was scheduled for Oct. 17 and delayed because of supply chain issues with materials to execute the blast.

Further delays are possible.

“We’re not going to take any chances or rush into any of the prep work until it meets all the specifications that are required,” Beeler said.

“If that takes more time, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Structural concerns found Aug. 19 halted demolition using a high-reach excavator. 

After an independent inspection, Steve Pece, president of the project’s lead demolition contractor Pece of Mind Environmental Inc., said implosion is the safest way to complete the job.

“Our implosion contractor has done his own structural analysis. And based on his findings, he wants to bring the building straight down as opposed to angling it one way or the other in the absolute essence of safety,” Beeler said at the news conference.

According to Beeler, the city approved the amended demolition permit to change the method from high-reach excavator to implosion.

A project description on the city building inspector’s online permit portal says the “method of demo is tentatively changed from high-reach excavator to implosion.”

The city Office of Public Affairs has not fulfilled an Oct. 7 records request about the status of the demolition permit. 

Emails show Pece of Mind Environmental sent city officials its preliminary safety plan Aug. 27 outlining controls for debris and dust and protections for surrounding buildings and infrastructure. 

Gaffney said at the news conference the approval has been a “step-by-step” process.

“I’ve been given guidance by public works. We cannot afford to have one incident,” Gaffney said. 

“As eager as I am, like all of us, to get Berkman II down, safety becomes the priority. So, we’ll continue to monitor this every day.”

On Aug. 9, the city sent PB Riverfront Revitalization a “supersede notice of condemnation.” According to the city Office of General Counsel, that nullified the city’s demolition order on the Berkman II, which was in place since late 2020.

The notice gives the developer time to complete its demolition before the city would step in to complete it.

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