City can move forward with plans to demolish Berkman II eyesore

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Building Code Adjustment Board on Thursday met to discuss what’s next for the Berkman Plaza II building, which has had its implosion pushed back time and time again.

The meeting came after emergency legislation was filed Tuesday by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to remove the building.

After much discussion, the Jacksonville City Council voted 15-1 in favor of $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars toward the demolition of the partially-completed building that has remained sitting since construction ceased in 2007. The ordinance appropriates $1.2 million from the city’s general fund to contract Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. to demolish the abandoned structure on East Bay Street.

The city will put a lien on the property. That means while taxpayers are footing the bill initially, the city will work to get the money back from the property owner.

During the meeting, PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville, which has owned the building, addressed the board during the meeting, asking the city for more time before it moved forward with the emergency legislation.

The board unanimously denied an appeal by Riverfront Revitalization, and allows the city to move forward with demolition plans.

“We believe we can move forward to contract a demolition company and because of communication with people who are already on site, we know what the rough costs are and we know what we need a contract for,” said Brian Hughes, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Hughes could not give an exact date, but said he’s “fairly confident” they will find a date in February.

Park Beeler, managing member of Riverfront Revitalizations, said they are considering taking legal action against the city.

“We are going to be weighing our legal options within the next 24 hours,” he said.

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 emergency bill, PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville 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 Jan. 6, saying it would be filing a construction lien on the Berkman II parcel for what it considers “a significant delinquent unpaid account.”

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.