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Taxpayers will pitch in $1.2M to tear down Berkman II eyesore

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Raymon Troncoso
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WJCT News
Councilman Reggie Gaffney and Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization manager Park Beeler stand in front of the Berkman II demolition site in July.

Taxpayers will put down $1.2 million dollars to demolish the Berkman II building that has blotted the downtown riverfront for years. 

City Council voted 15 to 1 on Tuesday to authorize the spending after contractors said they would pull out of the demolition project because the private owner, Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, hadn’t paid up for the implosion. 

Council approved the measure without public input or the usual committee process. City general counsel Jason Teal says that’s because the building is a public safety hazard. 

"We are dealing with a building that has in essence been prepared to fall. The contractor is about ready to walk off the property," Teal said. "That's where the emergency is coming from."

Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson was the sole no vote on the rushed decision, saying the city shouldn’t immediately step in to solve a contract dispute. 

"What are the other remedies available to make the owner of the building pay the contractor to do the work they've already started doing?" Priestly Jackson asked.

The rest of council disagreed that the city should take time to find another solution, citing the impending public risks if the Orlando-based contractor, Pece of Mind, followed through on its threats to pull out of the project.

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City of Jacksonville
Proposed street closures when contractors implode the Berkman II building.

The developer and owner, Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, disagreed with the contractor's assertion that they aren't paying their bills.

"I would just only say one thing that the dispute between us and Pece of Mind, the contractor in question, does not in any way impede our the schedule for the demolition of the building," manager Park Beeler told council Tuesday.

The demolition has been delayed three times already, most recently when it was scheduled for Jan. 8. Beeler said in a letter to city officials that the delay last week was due to the holidays and omicron spike.

"The pent-up desire for family time and events and use of vacation time on both ends of the holidays has been a factor more disruptive than we ever anticipated," Beeler wrote in a letter to city officials Jan. 3 postponing the demolition again.

The city says it will get taxpayers money back from whoever develops the property, after the Berkman II has been torn down.

As it stands now, contractors say the partial structure can withstand wind up to only 130 mph. 

The partially constructed Berkman II has been standing empty in downtown since 2007, when a man died and others were injured during construction.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.