Ernest Prencke waited to buy his condo in The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza on the downtown riverfront until the former owners of the unfinished neighboring tower, the Berkman Plaza II, settled a contract dispute in 2019 .
Owner 500 East Bay Street LLC Choate Construction Co’s plans for the 18-story hull structure did not materialize, and the structure remained incomplete.
Prencke, treasurer of the Plaza Condominium Association at Berkman Plaza Inc., watched and waited March 6 with about 75 of his neighbors, city officials and reporters as implosion teams sounded a horn to bring down the 15-year-old skyscraper on the La Banque du Nord.
For him, the city’s decision to demolish the building at 500 E. Bay St. after nearly 15 years was “the deafening sound of rising property values.”
“It is long overdue. He finally removed this terrible scourge from our neighborhood,” Prencke said.
“I walk my dog past him every day, watch him and just be amazed at the trash and how Jacksonville let him do it for so long.”
The city resumed the implosion of owner PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC in January after months of delays.
City Council approved a $1.2 million emergency appropriation on Jan. 12 for the Curry administration to pay PB Riverfront demolition contractor Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. and implosion subcontractor Controlled Demolition Inc., to complete the work.
Watch from the rooftops
City officials and residents of The Plaza stood on shipyard property, several hundred yards away, to watch the implosion at 10 a.m.
More spectators positioned on nearby rooftops and in dozens of boats in the St. Johns River just outside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office official exclusion zone to watch what many considered a horror in the downtown skyline.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Councilman Reggie Gaffney and the daughters of demolition company owner Steve Pece, Haven, 7, and Blythe, 6, pushed the ceremonial plunger to signal the explosion after a 60 second countdown.
“It’s like a win,” Curry said after the outburst.
In his remarks before the demolition, Curry paid tribute to 26-year-old Willie Edwards III, a laborer whose death in the Berkman II parking lot collapse in 2007 halted construction on the building.
The incident injured two dozen people.
“What was supposed to be a beautiful, cutting-edge addition to our downtown real estate quickly turned into a nightmare and continues to plague Jacksonville unfinished for 14 years,” Curry said.
The mayor called the Berkman II implosion “a much-needed step in the transformation of our downtown.”
“You can’t be a suburb from nowhere. I remain committed to shaping the Jacksonville skyline, and the removal of this building will free up vital resources and capabilities to provide new opportunities within our downtown core,” Curry said.
Prior to the implosion, Gaffney said he hoped the destruction of the Berkman II would bring an end to Edwards’ family.
“I haven’t spoken to them in years because it’s embarrassing for me as a leader not to deliver what I thought was an easy process,” Gaffney said.
“But the good news is that, by the grace of God, I did. Today it’s down. »
How did that happen
It took 22 seconds and 1,200 pounds of dynamite for Pece of Mind and CDI to implode the structure.
Pece said it was the result of 4½ to 5 months of preparation by 100 workers.
Crews drilled 1,200 holes in the Berkman II’s support columns to accommodate dynamite blast plugs and wrapped parts of the structure in warp-length fencing geofabric to ensure that the debris falls directly, he said.
Pece said his team coordinated with JSO, city officials and owners of The Plaza to make sure everyone “had a comfort level” with the process.
Contractors used an earth berm to prevent rolling debris from hitting The Plaza, covered utility infrastructure with steel plates, and put plastic liners on the JSO parking lot across Bay Street.
City manager Brian Hughes said March 3 that it could take crews up to six weeks to clear debris from the site, but the goal is one month.
The Berkman II was Pece of Mind’s first implosion in the company’s 25-year history, Pece said.
They specialize in large-scale mechanical demolition, which they used until June 2021 when upper floors “creped” and caused a work stoppage over safety concerns.
Pece said his company viewed the implosion as a “last resort”.
“When we started using the high reach excavator in conventional demolition, we noticed the building wasn’t acting the way it should,” Pece said.
“That’s when we stopped and had our engineer do an analysis and decided that implosion was the safest way to demolish the building.”
Pece said he hasn’t worked with a building that has been on display as long as the Berkman II and there have been other issues.
Pece of Mind is in dispute with PB Riverfront over what the contractor claims is an unpaid bill of $1.57 million for pre-demolition work.
“In 25 years, I can probably count five projects on my hand that I will always remember and this will definitely be one of them,” Pece said.
“Like anything else, some projects kind of bleed in the family. Because of all the problems we had on the project.
Under a tent before the explosion, residents of The Plaza uncorked bottles of champagne and drank mimosas in celebration as a countdown played on an LED screen.
Brad and Bernie McGuire said they weren’t concerned about the damage to the building they had lived in for five years.
Prior to the implosion, Brad McGuire said he watched YouTube videos of CDI razing other skyscrapers around the world.
He said anything that replaces the Berkman should bring more people downtown.
“Any kind of development is good downtown development that will bring in more residents because we need more residents,” he said.
“Reach that magic 10,000 (number).”
This is the number of residents that the city and JAX Chamber officials believe is the necessary downtown density for sustainable growth.
Owner’s Watch Party
PB Riverfront Revitalization of Jacksonville LLC Director Park Beeler and his team were not at the city’s official demolition site. They held their own watch party on the sixth-floor pool deck of The Strand building on the South Shore.
There, Beeler and project architect KBJ Architects Inc. released renderings of their latest plans for the Berkman site — a 40-story, $170 million tower with condominiums, apartments and retail space.
KBJ President Tom Rensing said on March 6 that they expected the tower to be 550 feet “but it could be taller.”
PB Riverfront bought the site from Berkman for $5.503 million in April 2021. The company delayed and postponed the implosion three times between October 17 and January 3.
On January 13, the city’s Codes Adjustment Committee denied the building owner’s appeal against the city’s condemnation order after the company’s repeated delays in bringing it down.
Hughes said on March 3, the city reached a settlement with Beeler that capped the company’s lien for the demolition cost at $2 million.
Hughes said Beeler will have 90 days to settle the cost of the final lien after the site is cleared of debris before the city has the right to foreclosure. He said the city wants to work with PB Riverfront to ensure a redevelopment plan is successful.
Despite the legal and financial problems, Beeler said on March 6 “at least the building is down.”
“The first thing we had to do was tear down the building,” Beeler said. “And there was so much uncertainty about how it was going to turn out.”
Beeler said he wants to submit the design to the city’s Downtown Development Review Board for conceptual design review by next month.
He said PB Riverfront also plans to announce the engineer for a team of developers, construction contractors and possibly “a joint venture partner” at a press conference within a month.