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A history from civil rights to skateboarders: What to do with the Bro Bowl

In Tampa comes a clash over history — one involving civil rights, the other, skateboards.

You might not know it passing by on your way to the interstate, but at the edge of downtown is a place that was known as the Scrub back when freed slaves settled there.

Here was thriving Central Avenue, with shops, churches, theaters, hotels and nightclubs that hosted Ella Fitzgerald and B.B. King.

Here was the hub of the civil rights movement in Tampa.

"The epicenter of African-American life," says Fred Hearns, a retired city official who chaired a citizens' advisory committee on the future of the city park here. "As far as I'm concerned, that's hallowed ground."

Then there's a more recent history involving people passionate about skateboards.

Perry Harvey Sr. Park includes a grafitti-tagged concrete bowl of dips and curves. Built in the 1970s, it's an urban skateboard mecca known far and wide as the Bro Bowl.

Which is where history meets history.

The park is soon to undergo a $6.5 million makeover. It will be the gateway to Encore, the impressive residential and retail urban redevelopment project currently rising where an old public housing complex once stood. A historic church at its edge will house a black history museum.

It is change a city can be proud of.

The Bro Bowl, though, would encroach on some elements of the new design, including a statue of Harvey and a great lawn. "It's right in the middle of the park — the very worst place it could be," Hearns says.

So the Bro Bowl must go.

But wait — some in the skateboard world rallied, claiming its history is important, too.

"An icon in the skating community … one of the last original places that is still around," wrote a supporter of a petition to get the Bro Bowl on the National Register of Historic Places.

Important fact here!

The city plans to build a new, $600,000 skate bowl just north that will be three times as big and with actual parking, which the Bro Bowl lacks.

There is talk of including historic pieces of the old Bro Bowl concrete in the new one to honor its significance. There could be a historic plaque to mark its role in the city's history and in skateboarding in general.

All of which I would call a pretty good mitigator here.

Given the progress that's coming, some people are not happy with this petition as a potential roadblock. They also are not mincing words.

"I think it's, on the part of the skaters, a lack of a sense of proportion and clearly a lack of knowledge of the history of the African-American community in Tampa," says Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

(I pause to ask if he's ever been on a skateboard and he says, "Not for long.")

Officials in Tallahassee next week will consider whether to forward the petition on to Washington, D.C. Buckhorn has written them a strong letter urging against it, as did the Hillsborough County Commission.

And I have to agree.

I like the Bro Bowl and its gritty urban presence. And there's no reason its spirit won't thrive just fine in its new spot nearby.

But there is something richer and more important here. And sometimes, history trumps history.

A history from civil rights to skateboarders: What to do with the Bro Bowl 07/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 8:27pm]
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