By: Mike Mendenhall
It only took 22 seconds March 6 for implosion crews to bring down the Berkman Plaza II high-rise that stood unfinished for more than a decade on the Downtown Northbank riverfront.
"It's like victory," Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said after the blast.
On a stage a few hundred feet from the Berkman, Curry and the daughters of Steve Pece, president and owner of the lead demolition company Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. of Orlando, pushed the ceremonial plunger to signal the explosion after a 60-second countdown.
“What was supposed to be a beautiful, cutting-edge addition to our Downtown real estate quickly turned into a nightmare and has continued to sit unfinished plaguing Jacksonville for 14 years," Curry said before the implosion.
Controlled Demolition Inc. is the implosion subcontractor.
About 75 residents of the neighboring Plaza Condominiums at Berkman Plaza were shuttled from their tower to watch the implosion alongside other spectators, media and city officials. The city took over the implosion preparation from owner PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC in January after months of delays. On Jan. 13, the city codes adjustment board denied the building owner’s appeal of the city’s condemnation order after the company’s repeated delays to bring down the building at 500 E. Bay St. That followed a Jan. 12 City Council vote to approve Curry’s $1.2 million emergency appropriation to pay PB Riverfront’s demolition contractor, Pece of Mind, to finish its work.
Pece of Mind told city officials that it stopped work to tear down the building conventionally last year because structural concerns made the Berkman a public safety risk.
City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said March 3 the city reached a settlement with PB Riverfront managing partner Park Beeler that caps the company’s lien for the demolition cost at $2 million.
Hughes said Beeler will have 90 days to settle the final lien cost before the city would have the right to foreclose. He said the city wants to work with PB Riverfront to make sure a redevelopment plan is successful.
The company still is in dispute with Pece of Mind for what the contractor claims is a $1,574,560.22 unpaid bill from the demolition prep work.
The explosion marks the end of what many in Jacksonville considered an eyesore on the Downtown skyline and a visible reminder of the construction worker who was killed at the site in 2007 and others who were injured.
The parking garage collapsed and work stopped on the Berkman II.
Construction did not resume on what was meant to become the second condo building in the Berkman Plaza complex.
Two other ownership groups since then have been unable to execute a development plan for the property.
PB Riverfront bought the Berkman site for $5.503 million in April 2021.