Date with dynamite? Contractor calls for implosion of Berkman II

Streets, sidewalks closed over weekend due to safety concerns

City leaders agree Berkman II needs to come down for safety reasons---now we're learning more about how that's going to happen.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A downtown Jacksonville eyesore could have a date with dynamite.

Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney told News4Jax Monday that the Berkman Plaza II could be imploded after concerns that the plan to bring it down with heavy machinery is too dangerous.

On Friday night, police and firefighters blocked off parts of Bay Street and the Riverwalk after engineers worried parts of the 180-foot-tall structure could fall during demolition.

The vacant building is nestled between the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters, the Duval County jail and the Berkman Plaza condominiums and marina.

The much-delayed demolition has hit hurdles for months, including a delay in getting a special excavator to remove the concrete and metal structure.

On Monday, Gaffney looked on as a contractor moved equipment away from the tower.

“The good news is progress is being made,” he said. “What I mean by progress as you can see they’re moving the cranes. They’re getting ready to leave.”

Gaffney said the building is a safety risk, which Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted about Friday night.

Curry announced that streets and sidewalks around the 18-story building would be closed because of “structural concerns.” A day later, he said that the area was secured and the project could safely continue.

RELATED: A look back at the history of Berkman II

Berkman Plaza II has been half-finished since 2007, when the parking garage collapsed while under construction killing construction worker Willie Edwards III, 26, and injuring 23 others.

In February 2011, a three-member panel of arbitrators ruled the collapse of the garage was the “direct result of design errors” for which Berkman is legally responsible. The panel also ordered Berkman to pay Choate Construction, the general contractor, a multi-million dollar lien, for wrongful termination, after the garage collapse.

Since April 2021, the city has been preparing to demolish the garage and one floor at a time.

In July 2021, the demolition began with a high-reach excavator. The work was expected to take at least three months.

“I think we got plans to remove the structure as soon as possible,” Gaffney said. “Do not forget we’ve got football season coming up.”

He said the contractor, Pece of Mind, thinks the safest and most efficient way is an implosion like this one in 2019.

News4Jax reached out to the company’s owner Steve Pece for comment.

There are concerns because the last major explosive demolition in downtown Jacksonville didn’t go according to plan. The former city hall building, near the Hyatt Regency, was imploded in 2019. However, the explosion and debris caused dust and damage to nearby buildings, including the Blackstone Building. The tower, which houses business offices and a restaurant, still has boarded-up areas where the glass was broken.

The cost for the Berman Plaza II demolition won’t cost taxpayers anything, Gaffney told News4Jax.

“It’s not gonna cost us one penny,” he added. “It’s gonna cost the owner of the project. Don’t forget he already paid $1 million. And I think this change will cost him another $600,000.”

Before that happens, the city will have to approve a permit for the change of plans.

Gaffney said his goal is to have the structure removed within 45 days, which is early October.

A city official told News4Jax they were in talks with the property owner and the contractor to determine what to do next.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.