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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 23, 202101:30 PM EST

Demolition contractor wants to implode Berkman Plaza II

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Pece of Mind Environmental says it expects to file an amended permit application with the city this week. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

Implosion is now the safest way to demolish the Berkman Plaza II, the contractor tearing down the 18-story structure said Aug. 23.

Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. President Steve Pece said his team plans to file an amended permit application with the city by the end of this week to implode the unfinished 14-year-old building at 500 E. Bay St. 

Structural concerns found Aug. 19 halted demolition work. The city temporarily closed a section of Bay Street and the Northbank Riverwalk around the Berkman II on Aug. 20 until the area was deemed safe.

“At this point, based upon our experience and the recommendation of our structural engineer, the safest way to finish the demolition will be to implode it,” Pece said.

Pece of Mind is drafting the implosion procedure for the Berkman and safety plans for the surrounding structures. 

Demolition crews work at the Berlman Plaza II at 500 E. Bay St. on Aug. 12.

Pece said it will take three to four weeks to prepare the Berkman II for implosion after the city approves the amended permit. 

It will take about two months to remove the rubble and the work should be finished by the end of the year, he said.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC paid $5.503 million for the property April 21 through PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC from former owner 500 East Bay LLC and intends to redevelop the site. 

The Berkman II was planned as a riverfront condominium at 500 E. Bay St. Work stopped on the structure in December 2007 when a parking garage under construction next door collapsed, killing one worker and injuring several others.

Pece of Mind stopped the demolition Aug. 19 after its structural engineer, Zabik Turner Engineering LLC of Winter Garden, determined tension cables inside Berkman’s concrete structure are weakening. 

The contractor was using a high-reach excavator with a boom arm to take down the building. Crews found the issue while removing a section of concrete from the structure. 

The contractor gave the engineering report to City Council member Reggie Gaffney, who represents the Downtown Northbank. 

Gaffney shared the issues with city and Mayor Lenny Curry administration officials, according to Pece.

In a tweet Aug. 21, Curry announced contractors, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office deemed the Berkman II structurally secure at 8:30 p.m. and the section of Bay Street closed during the inspection was reopened.

The city condemned the Berkman property in August 2020 while the sale was in negotiations.

That led the city Municipal Code Compliance Division to issue its own demolition order for the building despite Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization’s demolition plans.

In an email Aug. 11, a city spokesperson said the demolition order and condemnation of the building and property still are active and will not be lifted “until the structure has been completely removed.”

More expensive? 

Pece said Aug. 23 imploding the building will affect the $1.02 million job cost but the contractor is finalizing estimates.

The city Procurement Division opened three bids April 14 from a request for proposals from the municipal demolition order that ranged from $1.68 million to $2.34 million.

Pece of Mind began its demolition in July and the city has not taken further action.

The city’s January 2019 implosion of the 15-story City Hall annex site at 220 E. Bay St. cost more than four times that of Pece of Mind’s manual demolition.

The contractor was using a high-reach excavator with a boom arm to take down the building.

The city paid Environmental Holdings Group LLC of Mooresville, North Carolina, and Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Inc. $4.95 million for that job. 

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization’s initial Berkman II demolition plan in October 2020 was to implode the building. 

The developer’s first permit application with demolition contractor Arwood Inc. and subcontractor Controlled Demolition Inc. would have imploded and dropped the Berkman II debris to the east on the city-owned Shipyards property.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization brought in Pece of Mind when the developer decided to shift to a conventional demolition using a high-reach excavator. 

The city approved the permit for conventional demolition Jan. 20.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization co-manager Park Beeler said Jan. 6 that city officials were concerned at that time that an implosion could result in debris falling onto the adjacent Shipyards property and disturb ground contamination that could enter the St. Johns River. 

Residents of The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina to the west expressed concern about damage to their building from an implosion, Beeler said.

Berkman plans

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 houses and four penthouses.

At an April 28 news conference at the Berkman, Beeler said the project also proposes 50,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space that will wrap around the building and a 20,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy facing Bay Street.

Riverfront Revitalization estimates the project will cost $130 million to $150 million.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization is managed by JRR Management Partners, led by Brian Wheeler, the owner of GGI Tapestry LLC and a former Genesis Group partner; Beeler, F3 Global Solutions managing member and a former executive at The Charter Co.; and Chris Young, president of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Biotech Restorations Holdings LLC.

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