$1.2M to demolish Berkman II eyesore gets thumbs up from Jacksonville City Council

Bill says city considers condition of structure an ‘immediate threat to the life, safety and welfare of property and citizens...’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Emergency legislation was filed Tuesday by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to remove the Berkman Plaza II building, which has had its implosion pushed back time and time again.

By a show of hands, council members approved the emergency -- and after much discussion, the city council voted 15-1 in favor of the $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars toward the demolition.

“We’re hopeful with passage tonight and administrative action Thursday. We’re looking at dates in February, but I’ll say this: The next date that’s advertised, it’s going to be that date,” said Brian Hughes, the city’s chief administrative officer.

The ordinance (in full at end of article), appropriates $1.2 million from the city’s general fund, would be used by contracting with Pece of Mind Environmental, Inc. to demolish the abandoned structure on East Bay Street. The partially-completed building has remained sitting since construction ceased in 2007.

Councilman Rory Diamond was one of the 15 who voted to pass the bill.

“There comes a point when private property rights run up against public safety,” he said. “This is a dangerous building. You don’t have to look far to see when a building like this is neglected and dangerous things happen.”

In the legislation, the city considers the condition of the structure “to be an immediate threat to the life, safety and welfare of property and citizens located near and around the structure warranting an emergency appropriation of funds necessary to pay the costs for demolition of the building without further delay.”

As noted in the bill, PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville, the current owner, applied for a permit, intending the structure be demolished. The bill states the application was denied for a variety of reasons, including the potential for falling debris.

In January 2021, the developer received a permit to conduct a mechanical demolition using a “top-down” approach. The bill notes that during that process, the contractor -- Pece of Mind Environmental, Inc. -- “identified structural deficiencies in the building that were exacerbated by the mechanical demolition process, causing at least one of the upper floors to ‘pancake’ on the floor below, which required an emergency halt to all further mechanical demolition activities.”

According to the bill, a structural engineer found corrosion of rebar and tension supports in the building, rendering it unstable and leaving demolition by implosion “the most appropriate option to remove the structure.”

Along the way, there have been repeated delays in the implosion.

Most recently, a memo released by Park Beeler -- a managing member of Riverfront Revitalizations -- stated that its target date of Jan. 8 for demolition was “too optimistic.” 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.”

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

Finally, the legislation notes that the city has been made aware of a dispute between the developer and contractor over payment for the contractor’s services. It led to notification from the contractor of its intent to remove protective barriers and structures around the building, ultimately leading to the mayor’s emergency legislation.

An email from Pece of Mind was sent to the city Thursday, saying it would be filing a construction lien on the Berkman II parcel for what it considers “a significant delinquent unpaid account.”

After the meeting, Beeler said things were not handled fairly.

“There was not any opportunity for me to challenge anything they said,” Beeler said. “There were misrepresentations of fact this was the contractor that caused the delay.”

On Thursday, the building code administrative committee will meet to discuss the steps going forward.

About the Authors:

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

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.