Demolition work on Jacksonville’s biggest eyesore pushed back

Developer aims to begin ripping out the Berkman II tower’s top floors next Wednesday

Developer aims to begin ripping out the Berkman II tower’s top floors next Wednesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After sitting vacant and unfinished along the St. Johns River downtown for more than a decade, a Jacksonville eyesore is finally on the verge of coming down.

Demolition work on the Berkman Plaza II building on Bay Street was scheduled to begin Friday, according to Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, LLC, the property’s new owner. The developer planned to start by cutting away at the top floors of the 18-story structure.

Park Beeler, managing partner of Jax Riverfront, told News4Jax the timeline has been pushed back until next Wednesday while Pece of Mind, the demolition firm hired for the project, waits for a part for the specialized excavator it will use to dismantle the top of the tower.

“This equipment is a unique piece of machinery that will reach high to the top of the shell structure on the site and literally ‘bite off’ the concrete and steel like a giant scissors, then move it safely away from the building,” said Steve Pece, president of Pece of Mind.

“While this technique is more expensive, it is less disruptive and safer than most other demo approaches. Safety is our primary concern, and the owners have insisted on this as well.”

In a news release, Pece said crews have been removing steel and debris from the building since May. The demolition, which is estimated to cost more than $1 million, is anticipated to take three to four months to complete, barring any setbacks.

Beeler acknowledged last month’s deadly collapse of a Surfside condo tower provided confirmation that the choice to demolish the existing structure, instead of finishing the Berkman II tower, was the right call.

He also pointed to the collapse of the Berkman’s parking garage on Dec. 6, 2007, which killed one person and injured 23 others.

“Several engineering studies, including one conducted by the city, put forth opinions alleging the shell was structurally sound enough to resume its construction,” Beeler said. “Why take a chance? Especially since it was the unfortunate collapse of the adjacent parking garage 13 years ago and subsequent lawsuits that halted construction on the site for all of this time.”

Once the demolition is finished, the plan is to replace the eyesore with a mixed use development that would include a blend of commercial, residential, retail and green space, according to the developer, which hopes its development will help unlock the riverfront’s potential.

“Our goal is to permanently remove this visual image that has tarnished investor interest in the Northbank riverfront for so long, so that the Northbank’s full potential can begin to be realized, even though doing so has added substantially to the cost of our planned project,” Beeler said in a news release.

The developer, which paid more than $5.6 million for the abandoned tower and the land it stands on, estimates construction on the planned development could get underway as soon as six months after the demolition is complete.

The project aspires to bring 300 residential or hotel units to the riverfront site, a grocery store, shops and a park between the development and the Riverwalk. It’s viewed as a complement to a separate development proposed by Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

“Shad Khan and (Iguana Investments)’s plans for the eastern end of the Northbank Redevelopment Area, together with our soon to be plans for the western end, will hopefully energize the riverfront area with positive development and job creation, more public space, and people activity to support existing businesses and enable new ones,” Beeler said.

The project requires approval from the Downtown Investment Authority, but Beeler said they hope to unveil a major announcement soon.

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