INVESTIGATES: Developer for troubled Berkman II has his own troubled past, including prison time

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Berkman Plaza II stands tall over downtown Jacksonville, as it stands ready to fall apart.

“My name is Park Beeler,” said the Berkman II developer as he introduced himself at Tuesday’s city council meeting -- six months since proclaiming “everything appears to be in order” at a news conference regarding the demolition of the building.

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But that was then and this is now.

“What was proposed here is lacking of due process,” Beeler told reporters after the council meeting.

Beeler is referring to Mayor Lenny Curry filing emergency legislation to spend $1.2 million to take down the longtime downtown eyesore, which was passed by city council on Tuesday, following four demolition delays.

The most recent came earlier this month, when Action News Jax Ben Becker obtained a memo from Beeler citing the latest scheduled implosion date of January 8 was “too optimistic” because of “complexity” of the job and “financial risks” as the ownership group sought to expand insurance coverage.

But is there more to it?

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Demolition company Pece of Mind sent a letter to the city two days before on January 6, saying it was recording a “construction lien” on what it considered a “significant delinquent unpaid account” with Beeler’s company PB Riverfront Jacksonville regarding a financial dispute over $1.5 million.

The demo company threatened to remove all the protective barriers surrounding the building, making it, according to the city “an immediate threat to life around the structure.”

“There were all kinds of allegations,” continued Beeler after the city council meeting. “But no opportunity to respond, a kangaroo court essentially.”

However, Beeler is no stranger to court.

In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker learned Beeler has a checkered past with numerous legal and financial problems.

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Court records show that since 1984, Beeler has been slapped with foreclosures and evictions plus lawsuits where Beeler paid judgements to banks and insurance companies.

In addition, Becker uncovered Beeler has pleaded guilty or no contest to DUI and driving with a suspended or revoked license a total of eight times. In 2010, Beeler was convicted of being a habitual DUI offender and served three years in state prison.

Becker texted Beeler to ask him for an interview to talk about his “past financial and court dealings including the DUI prison time to give your side of the story.”

Beeler responded via text “What does that have to do with anything, Ben. I will call you later after lunch.” Beeler went on to say, “First of all, I think we will be able to avoid the financial dispute. Second, this isn’t about me, it’s about Jacksonville.”

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Beeler called Becker later Tuesday evening and admitted he had a drinking problem in the past, but that he has moved on.

Current development plans for the Berkman II site call for a mixed use retail, residential development.

City Councilman Reggie Gaffney who has supported Beeler’s proposed redevelopment of the Berkman II site, told Becker by phone he is “shocked” about Beeler’s past and is “embarrassed” he didn’t know anything about it.

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The Berkman II has sat as an empty shell since 2007, when a construction incident killed worker Willie Edwards.

Beeler maintains the city’s intervention makes him a victim.

“It’s nothing more than taking the property in disguise,” Beeler said Tuesday. “We believe the Mayor’s office has been trying to do ever since we put the property under contract.”

The city plans on demolishing the building in February.

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