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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 10, 202005:20 AM EST

Unfinished Berkman Plaza II Downtown could be sold soon

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The potential buyers want to demolish the building for a mixed-use development. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Berkman Plaza II could soon be sold, according to one of the owners of the unfinished Downtown structure.

The property is owned by 500 East Bay LLC, led by principal Bob Ohde. Jim Bergman, who is a partner with Odhe, said they are under contract with a three-person Jacksonville-based management company and expect to close within 60 days. 

Downtown Investment Authority Board Chair Ron Moody said Sept. 9 the buyers are led by Brian Wheeler, the owner of GGI Tapestry LLC and a former Genesis Group partner; Park 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.

“Obviously, Berkman Plaza has stood out like a sore thumb in the whole scheme of things Downtown,” Beeler said. “As we continued to look at the market and what we saw happening, we basically saw an opportunity to make an offer on it.”

Beeler said the group intends to demolish the property, which has sat unfinished on the Downtown Northbank of the St. Johns River for nearly 13 years. 

Plans for property

Once the acquisition and demolition are complete, Beeler said the 2.02-acre site will be redeveloped into a mixed-use retail and 300-unit residential development.

He said half the site will be reserved as public park space. 

The group contracted KBJ Architects Inc. to design the site. KBJ is the firm that has submitted three convention center proposals to the DIA since 2018 at the nearby former City Hall and courthouse site now called The Ford on Bay. 

Site renderings provided by KBJ show three connected structures with a rooftop garden, pool and tennis court on a parking structure.

Beeler said plans for the development include low-rise townhomes with 75 to 80 additional lower-cost units and possibly hotel space.

“The hotel is something that we’re looking at, but not necessarily committed to at this point,” Beeler said. “It’s primarily residential.”

Beeler expects the purchase and demolition to cost $6.5 million to $7 million, but he would not disclose the redevelopment budget. 

He said the group will purchase the property through Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC. The company comprises JRR Management Partners —  a general partnership of Beeler, Wheeler and Young — and several private investors. 

Beeler would not identify the investors Sept. 9, or if they would use debt financing or cash to assist in the purchase and redevelopment.

Construction on the Berkman Plaza II stopped in 2007.

He said all the partners will be introduced at a yet-to-be-scheduled formal presentation to the DIA board.

“I’m not at liberty to tell you who they are right now, but I will be as soon as we make our formal announcement. All I can say at this point is it’s a group of formidable investors,” Beeler said.

The group has filed paperwork with the Florida Division of Corporations to establish the company, according to Beeler, but those documents were not available at the state’s Sunbiz.org website.

Duval County Property Appraiser records show that 500 East Bay bought the Berkman Plaza II for $4.75 million from Atlanta-based Choate Construction Co. in July 2018. 

Choate acquired the property in a foreclosure sale in 2014 and Beeler said his management group is completing an agreement to assume responsibility for a promissory note the construction company still has on the Berkman Plaza II. 

“We, basically have an agreement in principle with (Choate) and we’re working on final documents for an assumption of that note,” Beeler said. “We’ll buy out (Choate’s) interest, eventually. The terms of the assumption of the note [state] we’re making a substantial payment against the principal. We’re continuing it for another year, so it’s going to be partially financed.”

A troubled history

The Berkman Plaza II has suffered setbacks since construction began in 2007. 

In December 2007, the parking garage under construction next to Berkman Plaza II collapsed, killing one construction worker and injuring several others. A lawsuit and other court actions caused construction to stop.

A deal fell through in April 2019 to redevelop the property into a 340-room hotel and resort, amusement park and parking garage. That plan was led by Barrington Development, through 500 East Bay.

Barrington Development had sought $36 million in city-backed financial incentives to proceed with the project and anticipated it would require $122 million in private capital to complete.

In January, the property was condemned and deemed unsafe by the city.

The city cited incomplete construction; damaged fencing; garbage, trash, rubbish and debris; overgrown vegetation; and “graffiti markings or artwork which contributes to neighborhood blight or other blighted conditions,” in a letter posted at the property.

Workers were later seen cleaning up the property and 500 East Bay avoided possible demolition of the structure. 

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