The unfinished and abandoned Berkman II tower, a prominent fixture on Downtown Jacksonville’s Northbank riverfront skyline, is being demolished after more than a decade of criticism and tragedy.
A group called Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization is set to take over ownership of the property. They have the support of City Councilman Reggie Gaffney and plan to replace the husk with new mixed-use properties featuring retail at the ground level and residential above.
The first few chunks of the building came down Thursday morning along 500 East Bay Street, where demolition firm Pece of Mind Environmental gave a demonstration of how they plan to tear down the structure.
Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization is fronting the cost of the $1 million cost of demolition without payment from the city through a contract with Pece of Mind.
Rather than using a controlled explosion or a wrecking ball to bring down the building, a high-reach excavator— a tall, specialized crane with powerful jaws and a spray to disperse dust— is being used to take the building apart piece by piece, floor by floor from the top down.
Jacksonville is giving a demo of the Berkman II building demolition on the riverfront. Rather than a controlled demolition, they will do it piece by piece, floor by floor with a special crane.
City officials say it will be done in 90-120 days @WJCTNews pic.twitter.com/rzDfTT3482
— Raymon Troncoso (@RayTroncoso) July 15, 2021
“As I look at the process, I was just getting nervous while they were crashing it, just praying that the concrete doesn’t fall the wrong way,” Gaffney said. “Everything is done to protect the city, and the citizens that live right around here.”
Park Beeler, a managing member of Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization, said this slow-but-safe style of demolition was part of negotiations with the city to avoid construction accidents like the one that killed one man at the site in 2007.
Mayor Lenny Curry referenced the incident on twitter Wednesday, while celebrating the demolition of the plaza, which was abandoned after errors and negligence plagued construction.
Finally, after six years of continued work by my team, the Berkman II is coming down! This eyesore has stood for 13 years after the tragic accident that claimed the life of Willie Edwards III and injured nearly 2 dozen others. Glad to see it go.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) July 15, 2021
“The machine came from Texas, and when it got here the Pece of Mind group tested it, all the equipment, there were some parts that were a little bit too worn for their comfort level, so they wanted to replace those parts in the interest of safety,” Beeler said Thursday to explain why the demolition had been delayed one week.
As the excavator takes chunks off the building and reduces it to gravel, a spray prevents dust from spreading and settling, while a massive fan oriented on the other side of the building from the crane will disperse dust further to prevent it from becoming a hazard for anyone nearby.
Gaffney said he put pressure on the company to complete the demolition as fast as possible, within three months, but because the step-by-step process also requires good weather conditions, he’s been told it may take up to four months.
“So many individuals stop me and ask ‘Councilman Gaffney that’s been standing here for awhile, what are y’all gonna do with that?” Two years ago I would say ‘I don’t know, we’re trying,’ but today I can say it’s actually coming down and I’m so grateful.”
The demolition will begin in earnest next week. After it’s completion in 90-120 days, Jacksonville Riverfront Revitalization is aiming to bring finalized development plans for new construction on the property to the Downtown Investment Authority for approval. The company already has the support of multiple City Council members.