As implosion nears, Berkman II owner wants to build city's second-tallest building at site

PB Riverfront Revitalization says the high-rise will focus on residential and retail.

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The owner of Berkman Plaza II says the company will “move rapidly” to redevelop the Downtown riverfront site after the city implodes the unfinished high-rise at 10 a.m. March 6.

PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC manager Park Beeler said March 2 the property owner is finalizing a new design with KBJ Architects Inc. that could replace the Berkman II with a 40-story, residential mixed-use tower. 

“We’re increasing the height of the tower portion of the plan due to heightened demand for residential. It will be primarily a mix of condos and apartments and the possibility remains for (a) hotel.”

The Berkman II has stood incomplete at 500 E. Bay St. for nearly 15 years. 

Work on the Berkman stopped in 2007 after the collapse of a parking garage that killed one person and injured others. 

Mayor Lenny Curry announced in February on his Twitter account the city would implode the 18-story tower.

That was less than a month after it took control of the implosion from PB Riverfront following months of delays.

February deal

According to Beeler, PB Riverfront reached a settlement agreement in February with the city to keep an official demolition order off the property, but he called terms of the deal confidential.

The city has not provided responses to questions emailed March 2 about the settlement details, including how much Beeler’s group will owe the city for the implosion.

Plans for street closures for the Berkman II implosion Sunday, March 6.
Plans for street closures for the Berkman II implosion Sunday, March 6.

On Jan. 13, the codes adjustment board denied the building owner’s appeal of the city’s condemnation order after the company’s repeated delays to bring down the building. 

That followed a Jan. 12 City Council vote to approve Curry’s $1.2 million emergency appropriation to pay PB Riverfront’s demolition contractor, Pece of Mind Environmental Inc., to finish its work.

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said Jan. 13 that the city intended to move “very fast” to finalize a contract with Pece of Mind because the city considers Berkman’s structural condition a public safety risk.

PB Riverfront has more debts to settle. 

The company is disputing a construction lien Pece of Mind filed against the property owner Jan. 10. The contractor claims the building owner has failed to pay $1,574,560.22 of a $1,923,650 bill.

The demolition contractor notified the city of the dispute Jan. 6 in a letter to city Director of Community Affairs Charles Moreland that also questioned the safety of the partially demolished building.

In August, Pece of Mind halted a manual tear-down because of structural and safety concerns and sought city approval for an implosion.

Beeler said PB Riverfront hopes to reach a mediated settlement with Pece of Mind. 

Beeler said PB Riverfront has settled a lien put on the Berkman II property for $178,642. The property owner could not provide documentation of the settlement and nothing had been filed with the Duval County Clerk of Courts Office as of March 2.

The exclusion zone for the Berkman II implosion Sunday, March 6.
The exclusion zone for the Berkman II implosion Sunday, March 6.

New plan

PB Riverfront’s latest plans would create the city’s second-tallest building. The Bank of America Tower at 50 N. Laura St. holds the record at 42 stories.

PB Riverfront hopes to take its proposal to the Downtown Development Review Board for design review soon after the building comes down, Beeler said.

The company paid $5.503 million for the property April 21. Plans at the time called for a $135 million, 26-story tower and mid-rise component totaling 293 residential units and a 537-space parking garage. 

Beeler said the proposal’s 50,000 square feet of ground-floor retail with a 20,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy facing Bay Street has not changed. 

He said March 2 that PB Riverfront will bring in another developer to build the new structure. When asked if PB Riverfront would sell the property, Beeler said the project would be a “joint venture” with a selected developer.

Beeler said the ownership group is talking with six development companies but has not struck a deal.