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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 8, 202108:00 PM EST

Developer: Crews to start demolishing the top of Berkman II

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Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC says a high-reach excavator will start the work July 9.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

The owner of the unfinished Berkman Plaza II Downtown says that demolition crews will begin removing the upper floors of the structure July 9. 

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC said in a news release July 8 that delivery of a high-reach excavator to the 500 East Bay St. site over the Fourth of July weekend will allow Orlando-based contractor Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. to begin the work.

Pece of Mind President Steve Pece said the company has been removing steel and other debris from the 18-story structure and preparing the site for the crane’s arrival since May. 

“The demolition is expected to take three to four months, weather permitting,” he said in the release.

While Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization worked to buy the property, city officials were adamant that the Berkman II along the St. Johns River be demolished.

The city condemned the Berkman II in August and began taking steps toward a taxpayer-backed demolition.

Construction equipment sits next to the Berkman II on July 8.

The city approved Pece of Mind’s amended demolition permit application in January for the $1.09 million project. The contractor determined the building, which has sat incomplete since 2007, could not be imploded and would be demolished conventionally.

Park Beeler, a co-managing member of Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, said July 8 that the city’s demolition order remains active. 

The development company has requested the city remove the order, which Beeler says complicated Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization’s effort to obtain a clear title for the property. 

“We have been led to believe the once the high crane got going they would remove it. We’ll see,” Beeler said. 

“Our goal is to permanently remove this visual image that has tarnished investor interest in the Northbank riverfront for so long so that the Northbank’s full potential can begin to be realized, even though doing so has added substantially to the cost of our planned project,” Beeler said in the release.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization $5.6 million purchase of the Berkman property from owner 500 East Bay LLC is in escrow, according to Beeler. 

City Council member Reggie Gaffney, whose district includes the Downtown Northbank, said in the release that he wants all city lawmakers to help private investors reach their development goals.

“As chair of the (City Council) Downtown Redevelopment Committee, I am more committed than ever to the goal of working with all community stakeholders who wish to contribute toward a vibrant downtown we can all appreciate and be proud of,” Gaffney said.

The Berkman II sits east of The Plaza Condominium along the St. Johns River.

In the release, Beeler said the June 24 condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, reinforced the development company’s decision to demolish the Berkman II instead of completing its construction and retrofitting the building. 

“Several engineering studies, including one conducted by the city, put forth opinions alleging the (Berkman II) shell was structurally sound enough to resume its construction. Why take a chance?” Beeler said. “Especially since it was the unfortunate collapse of the adjacent parking garage 13 years ago and subsequent lawsuits that halted construction on the site for all of this time.”

In July 2020, Beeler said his group signed an agreement with former Berkman owner 500 East Bay LLC to buy the land and shell structure.

The developer has met with Downtown Investment Authority staff to discuss its plans designed by KBJ Architects Inc. for a 300-unit residential high-rise with retail and public park space at the site.

The project has not come before the DIA, but the developer said in the release it is working to submit design documents to the Downtown Development Review Board.

Mayor Lenny Curry said in an April 27 news conference that Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has been “incredibly cooperative” with the city.

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.

Beeler says there is a group of private investors that will back the project but he has declined to identify the members.

A pile of rubble sits behind the Berkman II near the Northbank Riverwalk on July 8.

 

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