Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Historic designation for Tampa's Bro Bowl pits skaters vs. black leaders

TAMPA — Squaring off on a downtown street corner Tuesday, the two sides shouted, pointed fingers and accused each other of being insensitive.

One side waved signs. The other shot video. A police helicopter circled overhead. Close by, a couple of officers watched.

But, no, the protest had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman.

The yelling was generational. The history was local. And the focus of everyone's anger was the future of a graffiti-splotched skateboard park known as the "Bro Bowl."

On one side stood black community leaders old enough to remember the 1950s and '60s heyday of Central Avenue, the area where the Bro Bowl sits.

Settled by freed slaves in 1864, Central Avenue grew into a lively black business and entertainment district before being bulldozed for urban renewal. Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King played nightclubs there. Hank Ballard wrote The Twist, a hit for Chubby Checker, after watching Central Avenue kids dance.

On the other side were skaters, both black and white but decades younger, who say the Bro Bowl is an iconic skate park — popular video games re-create the experience of skating it — and is historic in its own right.

Tampa City Hall, with support of the black community, plans to demolish the Bro Bowl and build a bigger skate park nearby.

The plan is part of a $6.5 million makeover at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which has its own place in Tampa history. It was created at the request of black youth after riots in 1967 sparked by the police shooting of a black teen.

In the renovated park, the city plans features honoring Central Avenue's history on the spot where the Bro Bowl sits.

Not only that, but the effort is part of the 29-acre Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project. Last year, Encore won a $30 million federal grant, some of which is earmarked for the park.

So officials and black leaders say the Bro Bowl has to go.

"If it was somewhere else, that might be fine, but not on this ground," said retired city official Fred Hearns, who chaired a citizens advisory committee on plans for the park. "Everything on this site should honor Central Avenue and the people who lived here, worked here and the slaves who settled here. If it doesn't honor that, it doesn't belong here."

Demonstrating at the park Tuesday, both sides were passionate but peaceful.

"You're destroying our history, okay?" yelled skater Nick Leon, 34, of Tampa.

But 63-year-old Dan Coleman shouted, "I was here 50 years ago — 50 years ago! I! Was! Here!"

In an effort to save the Bro Bowl, skateboarders have petitioned to put the 35-year-old concrete basin on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last month, Tampa's Historic Preservation Commission voted to recommend approval after skateboarder Shannon Bruffett presented video testimony on the Bro Bowl's historic significance from members of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and historians from as far away as London.

It is, they said, one of just three remaining U.S. skate parks from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Bruffett was not at Tuesday's demonstration but said that, because of its location in Perry Harvey Sr. Park, the Bro Bowl is "an element of Central Avenue, not separate from it."

"It's kind of a landmark in a few ways," he said.

Next week, a state review board is scheduled to hold a public hearing in Tallahassee on Bruffett's petition.

If the state finds that the skate park meets the criteria — and yes, something less than 50 years old could qualify if it were deemed "exceptionally important" — the petition would go to Washington, D.C., for a final decision.

Both sides plan to be in Tallahassee. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick have written the state opposing the designation of the Bro Bowl. If necessary, Hearns said he'll take his case to Congress.

"If we have to go to D.C., I'll book my flight," he said.

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