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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 15, 202105:10 AM EST

Three bids made for Berkman II demolition order

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City officials want to get rid of the unfinished riverfront high-rise despite a potential buyer with an active permit to tear it down.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

Three out-of-state companies submitted bids as part of the city’s order to demolish the unfinished Berkman Plaza II while a potential developer says his group will buy the site within days.

City Procurement Division officials opened bids April 14 that range from $1.68 million to $2.34 million. 

The step shows the city continues to move ahead on its tear-down order for the Downtown structure as it also approved a demolition permit in January for Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, which wants to buy the site.

The city issued a demolition order in October for 18-story structure at 500 E. Bay St. 

The order was authorized after the property on the St. Johns River was condemned by the Municipal Code Compliance Division 

The bids submitted are: 

• D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. Inc. of Greensboro, North Carolina: $2,344,000.

• Apollo Dismantling Services LLC of Niagara Falls, New York: $2,277,216.

• Total Wrecking & Environmental LLC of Buffalo, New York: $1,168,500.

Park Beeler, the co-managing member of Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, said April 14 his company reached an agreement to buy the Berkman II for about $5.6 million from owner 500 East Bay LLC and expects to sign contracts by the end of this week

The city issued the developer’s demolition permit Jan. 20 with a job cost of $1.09 million from Orlando-based contractor Pece of Mind Environmental Inc.

Beeler and Pece of Mind President Steve Pece said the dueling demolition processes and the city condemnation have made closing and the property and preparing the private tear down confusing.

Beeler said April 13 that the sale documents are in transit from Des Moines, Iowa.

Florida Division of Corporations records list the address for 500 East Bay title manager James Bergman in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Dueling demolition

In July, Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization signed an agreement with Berkman owner 500 East Bay LLC to buy the land and shell structure, which has been vacant for more than 13 years.

Beeler has been public about Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization’s frustration with the city’s insistence to move forward with its demolition order despite the pending sale and the developer’s permit to tear down the structure.

He said the development group has been communicating with the Municipal Code Compliance Division.

“What we’ve said is this is a difficult transaction with a demolition order over the property,” Beeler said. 

“We’re taking a big risk closing over that demolition (order). But we are doing so.” 

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said April 12 that he “scratched his head” when Beeler went in front of a joint-City Council and Downtown Investment Authority workshop Feb. 23 and alleged the city is impeding on the property closing.

Hughes said when the private property deal is complete, the city will freeze any potential lien and city-controlled demolition of the Berkman II. 

He said the order will remain in place until then.

“We wanted to have absolute clarity on the communication that, one way or the other, the 13-year problem is going to be taken care of,” Hughes said. 

“We’ve gone down the route of potential developers and potential sales for a number of years with different parties.”

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has met with the DIA staff to discuss its plans for a 300-unit residential high-rise with retail and public park space at the site.

Hughes said he has not met with the prospective developer. 

He said if the group completes its purchase, Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration would be “happy to take a back seat” and allow Pece of Mind to execute its demolition permit.

“If the administration has a preference it would be they buy it, they exercise the permit they have, they do it themselves and then we start the dialogue about what that riverfront parcel can be,” Hughes said.

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’s declined to identify the members.

Demo day?

Pece said April 14 that if the sale is completed on schedule, he expects the Berkman II structure will be gone by late July or early August. 

He anticipates three to four weeks of preliminary site work including erosion control measures, expanding fencing and going floor-by-floor to clean up loose debris.

Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization plans a conventional demolition because previous plans to implode the building faced concerns by the city and nearby residents.

City officials worried 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 Condominiums at Berkman Plaza & Marina to the west expressed concern about damage to their building from an implosion, Beeler said.

Documents filed with the permit application show Pece of Mind plans to use a crane and 135-foot boom to demolish the 279,000-square-foot structure from the top floor down.

Pece said he is working with the city Planning and Development Department and JEA. 

Electrical panels and an inactive JEA-owned transformer will have to be retrieved from the demolition area, Pece said.

“Right now, we’re in a final glide path to closing, coordinating with the city and JEA,” he said.

The city Procurement Division issued a request for proposals to demolish the Berkman II earlier this year.

Two of the three contractors who bid have completed demolition work for the city in the past. 

D.H. Griffin was awarded the bid in 2019 to tear down the former Jacksonville Landing shopping center.

In 2018, Total Wrecking demolished the cooling towers at JEA and Florida Power & Light Co.’s jointly owned St. Johns River Power Park.

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