Jacksonville City Council meets with Berkman II development team

Developer plans to turn site into hotel with water park, amusement attractions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The never-completed Berkman II high-rise structure has sat vacant for 12 years since a garage under construction collapsed, killing a worker and injuring others. 

Now, the Jacksonville City Council is getting ready to move ahead and approve plans for a development company to turn the site around.

News4Jax reported in July about the plan to take the unfinished structure and turn it into a hotel and water park, but City Council members met Monday with the developer to find out the cost. It's a $122 million investment by the developer and a $36 million eventual cost to taxpayers. 

The building is already being cleaned up. In addition to the hotel with a private water park for guests, a public area -- with a Ferris wheel, other amusement attractions and a pier -- is also planned.

The development company said it’s ready to go and these plans could come to life in two years if the City Council gives its thumbs up

But there is a lot of finagling still left to do. During a special luncheon Monday, City Council members had a chance to ask questions to the development team and Councilman Danny Becton voiced a number of concerns.

"If this is going to be a successful business, then why is the taxpayer having to subsidize it?" he asked.

VIEW: Presentation on Berkman II development given at Monday's City Council Lunch & Learn

That subsidy is a $36 million investment by the city -- money that would be paid back to the developer once the hotel and parks are built. It also means an expansion of the Northbank Riverwalk and other improvements to the site, which the head of the Downtown Investment Authority Brian Hughes said will benefit Jacksonville.

"(The developers) are paying. They have the vast majority of the risk. They have millions and millions of dollars on the line and the taxpayers of the city don't pay a nickel until these folks have demonstrated their own investment first in a series of benchmarks that lead to success," Hughes said.

Hughes added this is all going to tie into major development along Bay Street from the stadium through downtown to Lavilla. As for those who live in the Berkman condominiums and townhomes next door,  there is concern about the development and the noise it would create. Some of those people had those fears put to rest Monday afternoon when they learned the attractions would not run all night long  

"It also helped that the gentleman explain that it’s going to end at 10 o'clock," said Mary Ellen Ludeking, who lives at Berkman. "So, 10 p.m., well that’s fair for noise and everything."

A meeting was planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Berkman for people in the area to meet one-on-one with the development team to answer their concerns. The City Council will be debating this over the next several months and, of course, it will have many more questions about the city's involvement. 

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.