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293 Residential Units Part of $135 Million Redevelopment of Berkman II

A digital rendering of the development planned for 500 E. Bay Street
KBJ Architects
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The Downtown Jacksonville eyesore on the Northbank known as the Berkman II is coming down, and details have been released about what’s going up in its place. 

At least for now, the project is to be known as 500 East Bay. Developers said Wednesday the space will come in at $135 million and will include 40 townhomes, 4 penthouse units, and 249 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. The development will also contain luxury amenities, including an elevated garden plaza with a pool. 

On the ground floor, a grocery store will be the anchor retail space, with other retail offerings almost 360 degrees around the building. 

A floorplan provided by KBJ Architects shows ground-floor retail surrounding the first floor of a parking garage.
Credit KBJ Architects
A floorplan provided by KBJ Architects shows ground-floor retail surrounding the first floor of a parking garage.

Tom Rensing, president of project partner KBJ Architects, said the tower would be moved farther from the Berkman Plaza I tower next door so residents wouldn’t be looking directly into one another’s windows. The building will be moved further north on the property than the existing Berkman II shell so there will be more space on the riverfront for public walking trails and greenspace. 

Steve Pece with demolition firm PeceOfMind said that before the Berkman II comes down, his team needs about three weeks to clean up the site, reconfigure the fence, and take over one lane of traffic along Bay Street to expand the demolition site for safety. Then, a high-reach excavator will take the building down one piece at a time, beginning at the top. The building will not be imploded. About 99% of the concrete and metal will be recycled. The total cost of demolition is just over $1 million, paid for by developer Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization. 

The Berkman II is seen from above in this digital rendering.
Credit KBJ Architects
The development is directly across the street from the Duval County jail.

The project has been helmed by Reggie Gaffney, the Jacksonville City Council member who represents Downtown. He said renovating the eyesore has been a top priority for him since he came to City Council six years ago. 

“This will help the city continue to get to its goal of trying to get 10,000 people Downtown within the next two to three years,” he said.

Lori Boyer, the CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, told WJCT News earlier this month that about 6,000 people currently live Downtown.

“I believe that for Jacksonville to be the great city that it is, and to even be greater, it has to have a great Downtown,” said City Council Vice President Sam Newby, another proponent of the project. “And this is one of the first steps to having a great Downtown.”

The Berkman II at 500 E. Bay Street was originally designed as the second phase of the existing The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina, which also includes riverfront townhouses. 

During its construction in 2007, the Berkman II's parking garage collapsed, killing a construction worker and injuring several others. Construction was permanently halted as a lawsuit was filed against the original owners. 

The country fell into an economic recession in the years following the construction accident. In the intervening years, multiple efforts to redevelop the property fell through, leaving residents and community leaders alike frustrated.

“As community developers and economic developers, we have been just as frustrated as everyone in Jax with the lack of progress Downtown and the constant failures of projects that have come forward,” said Park Beeler, a co-managing member of Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization. “So we were determined to come forward with a plan that we know we can implement, that the city will be proud of, and that will create the kind of immediate opportunities of the residents of the near North side that have been long lacking.”

Beeler said he plans to present his vision for the project to the Downtown Investment Authority at its upcoming May meeting, where Boyer and the DIA board may offer the firm some incentives to ease the cost of development. 

A rendering of the new development planned for the Berkman II
Credit KBJ Architects
Walking trails and public space is planned for along the river.

Boyer told WJCT News earlier that she’s eager to offer incentives for more grocery stores Downtown, although the City Council would need to approve that before such an incentive could be offered. 

JRR is not seeking any upfront cash investments from the city of Jacksonville.

When asked about the risk of investing in a property directly in the shadow of Duval County’s jail, Council Member Aaron Bowman laughed and said, “No comment.”

But he continued, “It won’t be in our administration, but the jail is getting old, it’s in a location that really doesn’t support our vision of what the city looks like, and future administrations and future council members will be wrestling with that one.” 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.