JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An eyesore along the Downtown Jacksonville skyline will live to see the light of day in 2022 after demolition was rescheduled yet again.
The new demolition date for the Berkman Plaza II has been postponed to Jan. 8, 2022, according to the City of Jacksonville. That follows a postponement that would have seen the building imploded Dec. 20 at 10 a.m., the latest in a series of delays in getting rid of the incomplete high-rise.
A letter from the developer to the City of Jacksonville explains in detail the reasons for all of the delays. Scroll down to read the full letter.
"The old adage that 'If it were easy, everybody would be doing it!' holds true in this case," the letter says. "This demolition project has not been easy, to say the least. From day one we have had to deal with a litany of problems and unanticipated obstacles that have increased our demolition expenses by over 100%, and have necessitated several revisions to our timetables."
The demolition process began in early fall of 2020, with developers seeking a demolition permit to implode the building "as soon as possible after we closed on the purchase of the property and cleared title, and to do so while minimizing inconvenience to all parties that could be affected by the demolition while also taking all necessary steps to assure public safety," the letter says.
That permit application was denied by the city "for a variety of reasons" after it had been pending for three months, the letter says. One of the reasons was that the city did not want an implosion that could cause debris to fall to the East from the Plaza, according to the letter.
"Concerns were expressed by some city officials this could 'stir up known contamination on the adjacent Shipyards property,'" the letter says. "Concerns were also expressed that, in the alternative, dropping the building by implosion to the South or to the East would potentially close off or damage the Riverwalk, and that dropping it straight down would require extraordinary protection from any debris falling toward the Plaza (Berkman Plaza I) and onto Bay Street."
Those concerns led the developer to pursue a strategy of taking the building apart piece-by-piece from the top down. That plan was later scrapped in August as the building was found to be structurally unsafe.
"It is important to remember that if our original permit application to implode the structure had been approved in 2020, and the title issues had been resolved earlier, the Berkman Plaza II tower would have been demolished and debris removed over a year ago," the letter says. "Under the switch to a more conventional demolition approach, we knew that it would require a longer period of time to complete the work, but felt that the work could still be completed by the end of 2021."
A certified structural engineer was called into analyze the building and determined that the corrosion of rebar and tension supports for the structure, primarily because of years of exposure to the elements, had caused the building to be unsafe for the mechanical demolition process, the letter says.
"The engineer further advised that previous structural reports prepared by the city ... had not considered these possibilities to be serious," the letter says. "The report concluded that in light of these newly discovered conditions, the ONLY safe way to bring down the structure would be by implosion."
The new plan was to implode the 18-story building in October, with that date delayed due to supply chain issues for protective fencing for surrounding buildings. Next, city officials set Nov. 14 as the demo date, but the implosion was again postponed while the company responsible for the demolition finalized risk assessments. That process was expected to be complete before Christmas but has now been pushed back another time, due to the high demand for service of the contractor hired to handle the implosion.
"We determined to use the most experienced and capable implosion contractor to meet our absolute commitment to safety and predictable results," the letter says. "This is why we decided to select the best in the business. However, this unfortunately created challenges in scheduling we have had to deal with in order to find a date that was not already committed to (the contractor's) many other customers worldwide."
The developer also had to take into account long-scheduled events Downtown and Jaguars games, the letter says.
"While we had hoped to complete the implosion prior to Christmas, the only available date to achieve this was the Monday at the beginning of Christmas week," the letter says. "Additionally, that day was not the ideal day of the week, and would involve many additional problems regarding commuter traffic and parking, extra overtime for demolition team workers that would otherwise be on Christmas holidays, including safety personnel, police and fire personnel, other city department employees, and other affected organizations."
The contractor ultimately preferred a later date of Jan. 8, 2022, the letter says. The Jaguars are scheduled for a home game the following day, which the letter refers to as "a potential complication that we hope to be able to work around."
The eyesore has been sitting vacant for more than 13 years. After a parking garage collapsed in 2007, killing a construction worker, the building was finally condemned in 2020, paving the way for demolition.
In 2019, a development company had been set to turn the unfinished high-rise into a resort hotel, but it withdrew its contract.
Current development plans call for a new 26-story tower and three shorter buildings to be built after the demolition of the Berkman Plaza II.
See below for a letter from Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, LLC, detailing the reasons for the most recent delay.