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Eyesore no more! Berkman II building imploded in Downtown Jacksonville

After months of delays and legal battles, the longtime Downtown Jacksonville eyesore was finally imploded at 10 a.m. in Downtown Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After 14 years, the longtime eyesore of the Jacksonville skyline is no more. The Berkman II building was imploded at 10 a.m. by Pece of Mind Environmental.

The building had been vacant after a parking garage collapse in December 2007 left one man, 26-year-old Willie Edwards III, dead and many others injured.

After years of changes of ownership, legal controversy and delays in the building's demolition, Mayor Lenny Curry, Councilman Richard Gaffney and the daughters of the owner of Pece of Mind ceremoniously pressed the plunger then watched as the building came down. 

RELATED: Videos: How you watched Berkman II implosion

"Today, we honor the memory of Mr. Edwards, and redeclare out commitment to the safety of our city by finally demolishing this dangerous structure," Curry said before the implosion. "I'm grateful to usher in a new chapter in Downtown Jacksonville."

At 10 a.m., the sounds of the explosives going off began and lasted about 10 seconds before the building finally collapsed six seconds later in a thick cloud of smoke.

"The explosion was...explosive," Zakary Shuman, a resident of Berkman I, said. He said he was a little concerned about the elevators being out of order due to a vibration censor. "Honestly, any inconvenience can be solved with a glass of champagne." 

"I can't wait to go upstairs and check out my new view!" Brad McGuire, a resident of Berkman I, said after the building came down. 

With one of Downtown Jacksonville's biggest eyesores now a thing of the past, Curry said the city can now look forward to a new chapter.

"Finally! I've been working on this for seven years to bring this down and start a new chapter," Curry said. "Not only did we turn the page and close the chapter, we closed the book. Now we get to write a new book in that part of downtown."

While the occasion was certainly a joy for much of the city, Curry said it is important to remember the tragedy more than 14 years ago that ultimately led to the building's destruction. 

"Many years ago, what was supposed to be an exciting building in downtown and an exciting future quickly turned into a tragic nightmare, and the reminder of that has sat for over a decade," Curry said. "It's a really sad incident. I continue to feel for the family. I'm glad we're moving on."

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History of Berkman II

The Berkman II building was supposed be the second of the Berkman Plaza condominiums conceived in the 2000's. However, on Dec. 6, 2007, construction of the building was halted for good when a parking garage collapsed. One worker, Willie Edwards III, was killed and several others were injured. 

"Unfortunately, he wasn't supposed to be at work that day," Sharon Kirkland, Edwards' cousin, said to First Coast News at his funeral a week later. "He filled in for someone to make extra money for Christmas for the kids. That's the kind of person he was."

The 13 people injured in the collapse were rushed to a hospital with various injuries including concussions and spinal injuries.

"The patients were somewhat in shock," Dr. Joan Huffman told First Coast News in 2007. "They were somewhat stressed, covered with dirt and concrete. They were frightened."

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Credit: First Coast News

OSHA ultimately cleared the contractor of any wrongdoing in the deadly collapse, though they were levied fines in 2008.

By 2014, more than six years after the collapse, the City of Jacksonville had cited the owner of the Berkman II site four times and was fining the owner for non-compliance.

By 2016, Choate, an Atlanta construction firm, took possession after receiving a $10.2 judgment against the developer. However, it began shopping the building for a buyer.

In 2018, the building, which had sat vacant for a decade as Jacksonville's eyesore, sold to Robert Ohde for $4.75 million.

“Our desire is after spending time with the building looking it over is to design a hotel and family entertainment center," Ohde told First Coast News in 2018. “If all the cards fall together with the city and the rest of the group of people we are working with.”

Later that year, the Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority approved a $36 million investment to redevelop the property, though the project cost of the redevelopment was estimated to be as high as $150 million. The company set to turn the building into a hotel and entertainment center withdrew its contract due to land contamination and the loss of the USS Adams Museum. 

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Two years later in 2020, the building was finally condemned by the City of Jacksonville after 13 years of sitting vacant. A resident in Berkman I filed the original complaint that led to the Berkman II's condemnation.

RELATED: Downtown Jacksonville 'eyesore' Berkman Plaza II condemned, set for demolition

At the time, estimates were that the building would be demolished in six months to a year after it was condemned. However, there were several legal battles left to fight that continued to push back dates for the demolition.

Pece of Mind Environmental was hired to do the demolition job. They began to make preparations for demolishing the building in April 2021. The plan was to cut the building apart piece-by-piece. After waiting for equipment, the process began in July.

In August, demolition paused after structural concerns were reported by engineers. 

RELATED: Crews inspect Berkman II building Saturday; demolition delayed because of structural concerns

“The most significant problems are when you’re pulling on a building, and it happens to break in an area you didn’t anticipate," structural engineer Ron Woods told First Coast News in August 2021. "Everything in there is connected, so when you start pulling things apart, some of them don’t want to pull apart in the same way you’re pulling the building.”

On Aug. 23, the city announced the building would be demolished via implosion. 

"The engineer report is basically telling the city the recommendation on what they need to do and that’s just blow it up," Councilman Reggie Gaffney said. “This should be an easier job because you don’t have windows, you don’t have a lot of stuff there. All you have is iron and hopefully that will fall right down."

RELATED: Demolition plan for Berkman Plaza II in downtown Jacksonville altered, crews will now use explosives to implode structure

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The original implosion date was set for Oct. 17. However, there would be a series of delays for various reasons.

The Oct. 17 date was pushed back due to the need for protective fencing, which had not arrived at the site. It was later pushed to early November.

However, the implosion date was delayed again. Pece of Mind told the city it was finalizing risk assessments, according to a Jacksonville city spokesperson. 

RELATED: Demolition of Berkman Plaza II building delayed again

The demolition was delayed twice more because of other projects Pece of Mind was working on and because another date set for the demolition was a Jaguars home game.

In January, the implosion was put on an indefinite hold due to a dispute between Pece of Mind and Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization. Finally, on Jan. 11, the City of Jacksonville approved in $1.2 million funding from the General Fund to pay for the demolition itself.

RELATED: Jacksonville City Council approves funding for Berkman II demolition

"We'll do it at our expense at first, but we will put an additional lien on the property because ultimately, the when and how will be determined, but the taxpayers will recoup that expense from the property owner," Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said.

On Feb. 9, the City of Jacksonville announced the current demolition date of March 6.

After the demolition, the space will be used for a mixed-use building, Gaffney said. He explained the space will include apartments, condos, and stores. 

"We got multi-use coming here where you got town houses, as well as apartments upstairs and you got retail stores to the bottom. I think the city of Jacksonville is going to be excited when they see what the riverfront put together," said Gaffney.

RELATED: What's next for the Berkman II space after implosion?

First Coast News will stream the implosion online beginning at 9 a.m. You can also watch the implosion on air beginning at 9:50 a.m.

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