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Berkman II has sat unfinished since the collapse of an adjacent parking garage six years ago.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jul. 30, 201412:00 PM EST

Developer's plan for Berkman II includes apartments and retail

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

“They have a great plan if we can pull it off. We’ve got to get moving,” City Council member Bill Gulliford said Tuesday after meeting with the owners of the Berkman II condominium tower, a potential developer and city economic development officials.

The plan could include apartments, retail space and possibly even workforce housing.

“We’re definitely excited about the project and the opportunity,” said Brett Oliver, director of development for Atlanta-based Cocke Finkelstein Inc., after the meeting.

According to its website, Cocke Finkelstein is a privately held real estate and investment management firm. In May 2013, the firm completed acquisition of Lane Co., creating CFLane, which manages about 40,000 apartment units in 18 states, from Maryland to Nevada.

Berkman II, along the Northbank Downtown adjacent to the Shipyards property, had been abandoned for more than six years when Choate Construction Co. secured clear title in April at auction for $100.

Choate, the general contractor on the 18-story project, received a $10.2 million judgment and lien on the project, which was halted in December 2007 when the parking garage next to the tower collapsed during construction.

Choate Chief Operating Officer Michael Hampton did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Gulliford said the preliminary discussion was scheduled to “get the project moving,” which was Choate’s intent as soon as the property was secured.

“We’ve got to hold the developers on this project. They’re not going to wait forever for us to get to a decision point,” said Gulliford.

Incentives from the city likely will be part of the project, Gulliford said. That could include transfer of a portion of the Shipyards property to the developer to accommodate a larger parking garage adjacent to the apartment tower.

Gulliford said whatever any future plans might be for the Shipyards, “We need more parking.”

“We could realign the parking garage to intrude a little on the Shipyards property for future development. That’s a good option,” Gulliford said. “We’re looking at a vehicle where we can give them the incentives they need to make the deal work with the bank.”

The larger parking garage also could be designed to include retail space and possibly even workforce housing, while the apartments in the tower are proposed to be rented at high-market rate.

Gulliford said he thinks there is enough demand for high-rise riverfront rental residences Downtown and that the city has the opportunity to craft an agreement to revive the development of Berkman II.

“They think they can build something that will draw people. The need for high-end is there,” he said. “They have great plans if we can pull it off.”

Oliver described Tuesday’s discussion as “a great meeting.” He said Cocke Finkelstein will continue to work with the city on the project and “make something positive happen for Jacksonville.”

Kristen Sell, a spokeswoman for Mayor Alvin Brown, said in a statement that redeveloping Berkman II would further Brown's vision of a vibrant Downtown and "create opportunities for people to live, work and play."

"Furthermore," the statement said, "this would remove a blighting influence on our river’s edge and the skyline of Downtown."

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