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Economic Development
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 20, 201805:20 AM EST

Big plans for Berkman Plaza II

Buyer envisions 312-room hotel, water and amusement park.
by: Jay Schlichter Staff Writer

Choate Construction Co. sold the vacant and unfinished Berkman Plaza II Downtown for $4.75 million Monday to 500 East Bay LLC.

Registered agent Robert Odhe, listed at an address in Daytona Beach, said 500 East Bay LLC’s plans are to convert the 2-acre Northbank riverfront site into a 312-room hotel, an amusement and water park, bars, restaurants and parking.

“It will have a family entertainment center with a water park and amusement rides,” said Odhe, whose company has been brought on as the general contractor.

“The amusement park will be like a Dave & Buster’s on steroids,” he said.

The LLC is based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and registered with the state Feb. 26.

Ohde declined to identify the developer but said he is working with a partner in Iowa.

He estimates the project investment to be about $150 million and will take 18 months to complete. 

Ohde said 900 employees will be required to operate the resort year-round.

The initial phases of cleaning and preparing the property for construction could start as early as next week, he said.

Unfinished since 2007, the 18-story condominium tower was designed to reach 23 floors. Ohde said it has not been determined whether to complete those floors.

Atlanta-based Choate Construction Co. is financing the deal with 500 East Bay with a $3.25 million mortgage.

Odhe said he and others will be able to disclose more in the coming weeks after the final commitment paperwork has been filed.

“This is definitely going to be a go-to destination,” Odhe said when asked if this resort could compete with the massive competition in Orlando.

Mayor Lenny Curry confirmed Tuesday that the sale was completed Monday.

A statement by Chief of Staff Brian Hughes said after months of discussions with Choate and a new developer, “we are one step closer to our commitment of ensuring that Jacksonville’s waterfront is put to its highest use.”

He said plans will be announced in detail in the coming days and include a parking garage. 

Hughes said Thursday the mayor’s office looks forward to the buyer presenting a series of plans. 

“We believe they will work with the Downtown Investment Authority on the development package,” he said.

He said the mayor’s office will analyze the agreement to ensure a return on investment of at least $1 for each $1 invested.

Hughes did not identify a developer or the prospective hotel brand pending discussions with the buyers.

“We are looking forward to a presentation by the development team about the site plans and what they bring to the table as far as a flag,” Hughes said.

He said the mayor’s office “had a basic understanding of a family entertainment venue.”

Thamir Massraf, a consultant with TTSM Inc., said Thursday that he forged relationships between three parties interested in developing the Berkman Plaza II with the city of Jacksonville and Choate Construction.

However, he couldn't disclose the identities of any of those companies, but said the city was adamant on the property being developed into a “full-service hotel.”

Berkman Plaza II originally was designed as a 222-unit condominium tower when it was announced in 2006, as part of the second phase of high-rise residences next to The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina.

Construction was halted in 2007 when a six-story parking garage collapsed, killing a construction worker and injuring several others. A lawsuit and court action caused construction to stop.

Choate secured the property through a settlement in a lawsuit against the building’s original owners.

In April 2014, after being granted a $10.2 million judgment and lien, Choate Construction, the development’s general contractor, took possession of the property in a foreclosure auction in April 2014.

As the only bidder, Choate paid $100.

During a June interview, Curry and his team suggested the city would take action if Choate did not close on a deal with developers.

“We’ve made it very clear to them that if this deal doesn’t close, the city will act,” he said, without explaining those options.

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