A $135 million plan for site of Berkman II
A day after Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC announced it started demolition work at the unfinished 18-story Berkman Plaza II, the developer released a $135 million plan for the Downtown site.
During an April 28 news conference at the 500 E. Bay St. property, City Council member Reggie Gaffney, development group co-manager Park Beeler and city officials presented a 320,000-square-foot mixed-use residential project with a grocery store anchor to replace what speakers called a riverfront eyesore.
“This is a project that’s been a long-standing desire of mine and my colleagues for a number of years. We all share one thing in common — a love of Downtown Jacksonville and for it to reach its full potential,” Beeler said.
KBJ Architects renderings show a 26-story tower and mid-rise component totaling 293 residential units and a 537-space parking garage.
The project, temporarily named 500 East Bay, will have 249 apartments, 40 town houses and four penthouses.
The renderings and description of the project are similar to what Beeler told the Daily Record in September when it was reported his group was under contract to buy the Berkman II in September.
Beeler said 50,000 square feet of ground-floor retail will wrap around the building and include a 20,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy facing Bay Street.
He said Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has fielded interest from several grocery operators, but he was not ready to name the companies in negotiations.
“We believe that a retail component is essential to this project,” Beeler said.
“This particular stretch of Downtown has been basically void of some retail outlets — we’ll call them basic needs. First and foremost would be a grocery store.”
KBJ owner Tom Rensing said the design maximizes planned public park space on the property.
“Our park space is very important along our riverwalks. We want to make sure that continuation works,” Rensing said.
Beeler said the design supports ideas by advocates like the nonprofit Riverfront Parks Now. The group promotes public access to the St. Johns River.
Perry-McCall Construction Vice President Brad Glass said the company is in early discussions to build the project.
“We at Perry McCall are happy to be in the early discussion and planning on this project and look forward to once again building on the banks of our gorgeous St Johns River,” Glass said in an email.
Beeler said he expects to announce a general contractor next week.
Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has the $5.6 million property purchase from former owner 500 East Bay LLC in escrow, according to Beeler.
He said Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization has spent more than $2 million on project design and demolition.
The company has not requested city dollars, but Beeler said the group likely will propose a mix of public incentives, including tax rebates, with guidance from the Downtown Investment Authority.
The developer hopes to make an initial presentation to the DIA board in May and start the required Downtown Development Review Board process.
The company wants to complete the city permitting, DIA and DDRB processes while demolition proceeds and be in a position to start construction in six to nine months, Beeler said.
Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization hopes to complete the project in one phase, but Beeler said the 26-story tower will be built based on market conditions.
It could be pushed into a second phase or add floors if Downtown residential demand increases, he said.
Gaffney touted the project as another step toward reaching the city’s goal of 10,000 Downtown residents.
The District 7 Council member and Beeler said Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization will seek minority-owned subcontractors and small businesses to build the 500 East Bay project.
The company estimates the project will create 200 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs in the retail component.
City demolition order
The Berkman II has sat unfinished since 2007.
During a news conference April 27, Mayor Lenny Curry said he was hesitant to condemn the property but decided to move forward in August after potential deals with multiple buyers fell through over the years.
Council Vice President Sam Newby and Council member Aaron Bowman stood with Gaffney and the development team April 28.
Bowman, who also is vice president of business development at the JAX Chamber JAXUSA Partnership, said it’s an “embarrassment” to tell the Berkman II story to companies considering a move to Jacksonville.
He noted the 18-story shell structure has stood through three mayoral administrations.
“Now it’s finally coming down,” Bowman said. “What a great partner to have with us today that has taken the risk and taken the opportunity to take something ugly and turn it into something beautiful.”
Steve Pece, president of demolition contractor Pece of Mind Environmental Inc., expects the razing to take three months after a month of site preparation.
Gaffney said he is working with Mayor Lenny Curry’s office to lift the city’s demolition order from the property in the coming days.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch said April 27 the city’s condemnation, demolition order and associated administrative fines will remain until the Berkman II is gone.
Beeler said the city’s actions and administrative lien have made obtaining title insurance on the property “economically infeasible” and slowed the project.
He said “it’s not our style to litigate” but the development group’s attorneys have been in conversations with the city.
“We’re committed to this project. We’ll do whatever it takes,” Beeler said.
“We’re hoping that the city will remove that based on the good faith progress that we’ve shown to this point. There’s no need for the city to have a demolition order on this building at this time.”