‘Frustrating for us, frustrating for all’: Berkman II implosion delayed again

Memo says Jan. 8 implosion date was ‘too optimistic’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new implosion date for the Berkman II building in Downtown Jacksonville could be identified in a matter of days, but the demolition “definitely will not be on January 8,” according to a memo from a managing member of Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization LLC.

The memo released Monday by Park Beeler states that the Jan. 8 demolition was “too optimistic.” Of the dates presented to the city on Dec. 9 for review, the Jan. 8 date was targeted, as it would be the earliest date that the building could be imploded.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case,” Beeler writes. “Frustrating for us, frustrating for all.”

The memo reads that the demolition is “far more complex than would normally have been the case” and that “No mistakes can be tolerated. There is too much at stake to take even the slightest chances.”

The holiday season has disrupted schedules “far more than expected this year,” the memo reads, and that the re-emergence of COVID effects and the new variant “has been a holiday nightmare.”

“The pent-up desire for family time and events, and use of vacation time on both ends of the holidays has been a factor more disruptive than we ever anticipated,” the memo reads.

As stated repeatedly, Beeler writes, the overriding concern for removing the structure safely has been a top priority, and it’s been amplified by structural problems found in the building in October, which forced the change from a mechanical process to an implosion process. The memo notes the building collapse in South Florida as something that raised further concerns.

“The location of this property, with its close proximity to the Plaza, the Sheriff’s headquarters, to Bay Street, and to Maxwell House, as well as sensitive utility systems locations underneath the structure, coupled with the structural weaknesses discovered in October, have all made this a difficult and a very, very expensive project to complete,” the memo reads.

According to Beeler, the process has also involved a constant re-evaluation of potential financial risks to the ownership group, demolition team and lenders from possible legal claims. Therefore, the group decided to expand insurance coverages beyond what is being provided under the contracts with the demolition team.

“It doesn’t take but one person to be injured or killed to make it, basically, a catastrophe,” Beeler told News4JAX in an interview. “We we want zero injuries or casualties to result from all this. That’s important to us.”

It’s further noted that a reason for the postponement is that the underwriting of the additional insurance coverage it taking more time than expected due to the holidays, but also due to what occurred in South Florida.

“We cannot and will not actually trigger the explosion to bring down the structure until the expanded insurance coverages are in place, and we are taking into account all possible problems, no matter how remote,” the memo reads. “The previous accident at Berkman Plaza II fourteen years ago, bankrupted the Berkman family’s visionary project and cost dozens of companies to lose many millions of dollars. We do not intend to allow a repeat.”

The document notes that the project is 90% of the way complete and asks for patience.

City Councilman Reggie Gaffney represents Jacksonville’s seventh district, where the building is. He too is frustrated by the delay.

Gaffney said he knows the developer has invested a lot of time and effort in working to remove the building so he’s optimistic it’ll be imploded soon.

“$9 million they’ve invested in removing that,” he said. “So I’m hopeful if they’re spending that kind of money, it’s coming down.”

The owner of the building hired the world’s foremost implosion company to bring down the Berkman two.

The implosion plan includes seismic monitoring at 10 locations, both before and after the blast, a protection plan for JSO’s Police Memorial Building and a dust suppression system.

Here is the memo in its entirety: