After 60 years, Jacksonville's old City Hall crumbles in seconds

Implosion Sunday morning damaged gas line, windows of nearby buildings

By Allyson Henning - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville's downtown landscape changes with the push of a button.

Nearly 60 years after Jacksonville built a City Hall on the north bank of the St. Johns River, the 15-story building came crashing down in a cloud of dust as it was imploded in a matter of seconds Sunday morning.

The big boom from the implosion was heard throughout downtown and across the river into Arlington and as far away as Deerwood and in Atlantic Beach. The powerful blast sent a cloud of dust that blew to the east-northeast.

The explosion caused several car alarms to got off in and around the area. Crowds and reporters covering the story were in awe as they watched the building disappear in just about five seconds. 

Most people watching from the Northbank retreated -- covering their mouths and rushing away as the dark haze moved out of the downtown area.

"There was a lot (of dust). At times you couldn’t see the Berkman building. We watched it head east to the beaches and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t catch a little bit of it," spectator Paul Sifton said.

A handful of people decided to stick it out.

"There were a number of people that were running away. There were people who were ducking or looking for vehicles to get into and things like that, which, I don’t blame them. We just kind of covered our faces," said spectator Deborah Smith.

There were some windows damaged in buildings near the old City Hall by the blast of the implosion, including at the Blackstone office building downtown.

Bay Street remains closed as repairs and cleanup continue. Officials have advised that a gas line was impacted during the implosion and is undergoing repair. There are currently no notices of evacuation.

For months, asbestos and other dangerous materials were removed from the East Bay Street building, which had sat vacant since 2015. In recent days, a contractor that has blown up thousands of buildings on cue wired the building with strategically placed dynamite that, when detonated, caused the building to collapse upon itself.

The city planned the implosion for Sunday morning because fewer people would be around. Streets around the site were closed and the area, nearby river, and even airspace were restricted shortly after dawn. People who live or work in the area were told to say inside during the blast, keep doors and windows closed and turn off exhaust fans.

Mayor Lenny Curry said he watched the event, but there wasn't a  public viewing site. News4Jax had nearly a dozen cameras capture the event for a special edition of The Morning Show called "Bold City Blast."

BOLD CITY BLAST: Special section for full coverage, history of City Hall, Courthouse
REACTION: Cool, scary, awesome among reactions to implosion
IMAGES: The implosion from all angles
REWIND: Watch City Hall go back up, come down again
TIMELAPSE: Cloud of dust rises after implosion
DRONE VIDEO: 2 more views of City Hall blast

Besides the nearby Hyatt Regency Jacksonville, there aren’t a lot of businesses in the area that will be affected. Will Frazier, a manager at Bold City Brewery across the street, said they delayed opening Sunday just in case. 

"It’s an effort to take downtown to the next level, but the fact that they are tearing the building down, and it’s older, is somewhat of a concern," Frazier said. "So I’m glad they’re going to shut down the streets and quarantine this area for a period."

Now that the building has come down, there's no indication of what will happen at the site that includes the long-abandoned Duval County Courthouse, which is being demolished. 

"We are going to knock it down so it will be ready for some sort of development," Curry told News4Jax. "We will work with the Downtown Investment Authority. It could be any number of things. It's a blank slate."

There have been some ideas, such as building a new convention center on the site. But, for now, that has been put on hold.

By bringing down this part of Jacksonville history, the mayor believes the city will be able to create a new path for downtown and the riverfront.

"By putting this in my budget a year ago, and now to the point to where we’re knocking it down, we are doing the basic foundational stuff we have to do to actually move downtown and our city forward," Curry said.

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