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Bro Bowl's Fate Still Unknown in Perry Harvey Sr. Park Face Lift

Nov 25, 2013

The city of Tampa has been planning a redevelopment of Perry Harvey Sr. Park for years. In the same park sits a 35-year-old skate bowl, which recently made it on the National Register of Historic Places. Because the facelift would require federal money, the city has to plan how to take care of both the new park and figure out what to do with the Bro Bowl.

On a Sunday mid-afternoon, dozens of skaters and bikers are hitting the pavement at the Bro Bowl in downtown Tampa. A few of the younger kids wear helmets and pads but for the most part, it's just the skaters, their boards and the bowl. The pavement, along with its graffiti, starts at the top of a hill and it descends into a circular bowl with various sized bumps.

Credit WUSF/Yoselis Ramos

The bowl sits in the middle of the park perched between downtown and what used to be a public housing complex.  Shannon Bruffett is director of the Tampa chapter of the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving skateboarding history. Even so, to Bruffett, it's still like being at the beach.

"That's one of the things people love about it, it's like riding a concrete wave," Bruffett said.

The bowl was first constructed in 1978 and it's one of the last skate parks from that time still standing in the entire country. The Bro Bowl was the first public, free, ride-at your-own-risk skate park in Florida.

The Bro Bowl is now on the National Register of Historic Places and to Bruffett, it's history that should be experienced and not just read about.

"It’s something that you can watch a video, you can look at pictures, you can read stories and books but unless you come here and actually go down that hill, you’re never going to really have the same feelings and emotions we did," he said.

But it is possible future skaters won't be riding on this 35-year-old wave of concrete. A $6 million facelift to the Perry Harvey Sr. Park was originally planned to demolish the Bro Bowl. The redeveloped park would honor the history of the black-owned businesses that flourished on Central Avenue during the segregation era. Skaters would have a new skate park a few blocks over.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn and African-American residents would rather see the skate park go elsewhere.

"I believe that park should be primarily be dedicated to celebrating  black history. I’m thankful that the mayor and the city agree with that. And I believe that that’s appropriate because that history started 150 years ago,” said Fred Hearns, president of the Robert W. Saunders Senior Library Foundation.

He grew up during the time when Central Avenue was the Harlem of Tampa.

“Anybody my age who was in Tampa in the 1950s and 60s who’s African-American, if you mention Central Avenue, I guarantee you you’re going to see a smile on their face,” he said.

Central Avenue was filled with restaurants, night clubs and a photography studio. Hearns says it was also a place to get an education.

“You could see the possibilities for you life. I mean you were surrounded by success. So in addition to the music, and the fun and the dancing and entertainment, you had this wonderful model of black business and the possibilities," Hearns said.

Central Avenue was even more than that.

“That was the one place every boy, every girl, every adult who was African-American could walk down Central Avenue and you felt like somebody,” Hearns said.

After the riots of 1967, the widening of the interstate highway and integration itself, Central Avenue fell down from its heyday.  Most of the old business district was leveled. A few years later, the skate park was built.

Last week, the city looked into the possibility of moving the bowl from its current spot. It's possible and it would cost more than a $100,000. But moving the bowl would mean another review process.

Changing the site of a place on the National Register would require another nomination for it to remain on the list. That process takes nine months. That would delay the development project set to start next year.

Andre White, whose father Moses White was known for restoring peace during the riots of 1967, doesn't see why both histories cannot be honored.

“The history of the blacks that was there, that was history. But what is wrong with letting the two of them exist. There’s nothing wrong with that," White said.

He also said he could see people using both elements in the same park.

"My granddaughter goes to USF. She would definitely love to go down to Central Avenue and show somebody that her great-granddaddy is shown down there but by the same token she’ll get on that skateboard and skate while she’s down there,” White said.

Currently, the city is trying to enter an agreement with the state to move the entire Bro Bowl from its current location, while keeping it on the National Register.