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In a first, opponents in debate over Tampa's Bro Bowl meet to seek common ground

Andre Moses White, center, prays with skate park supporter Shannon Bruffett, left,  and Central Avenue supporter Fred Hearns, right, at the Bro Bowl in Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park on Friday morning.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Andre Moses White, center, prays with skate park supporter Shannon Bruffett, left, and Central Avenue supporter Fred Hearns, right, at the Bro Bowl in Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park on Friday morning.

TAMPA

They started the day with a prayer for reconciliation and ended it feeling encouraged, though short of an agreement that settles all their differences.

Still, it's a good start, said Andre Moses White, who Friday brought together the spokesmen for each side in Tampa's debate over the Bro Bowl for a first-ever attempt to talk through their differences.

"We had a lot of conversations, all positive," said Fred Hearns, who supports a renovated Perry Harvey Sr. Park with the original Bro Bowl taken out and replaced by a skateboarding basin in another location. "We're going to continue to keep the lines of communication open."

"Today is a first step in a process what will benefit all parties concerned," said skateboarder Shannon Bruffett, who is working to put the Bro Bowl on the National Register of Historic Places. "Hopefully it will lead to great things."

White, the son of widely respected black businessman Moses White, originally opposed adding the Bro Bowl to the register. But he says he had a change of heart last week after a dream in which his father, who died 27 years ago, told him that this is a chance for everyone to come together and move forward without hatred.

So White, 68, drove from his home in Atlanta to his hometown of Tampa this week to broker Friday's dialogue. It began after White, Bruffett and Hearns stepped into the green concrete skate bowl — free of skaters at 9 a.m. — and joined hands in prayer.

"Please bring us together," White said.

After more than an hour of private discussion at the Greater Bethel Baptist Church across the street, the men met with two officials in a second-floor conference room at City Hall.

There, they touched on the key sticking point — should the bowl stay or go?

The city of Tampa and black leaders want to demolish the bowl and rebuild it bigger and better a couple of blocks away.

That would make way for a statue of union and civil rights leader Perry Harvey Sr., a history walk and a great lawn honoring the history of Central Avenue, a black business and entertainment district destroyed by urban renewal. Eventually, the area, part of the larger Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project, will include a black history museum.

"When people walk out of that black history museum, they shouldn't see anything but black history," said Hearns, a retired city of Tampa official who chaired an advisory committee on plans for Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

The statue of Harvey, he said, is envisioned as the same kind of gathering place that the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. is in Harlem. He said that to leave the skateboard bowl close to that would disrupt the central theme of the park.

But Bruffett said the Bro Bowl is part of Central Avenue's history.

Perry Harvey Sr. Park, he said, was created in the wake of civil unrest sparked by the 1967 police shooting of Martin Chambers, an unarmed black teenager. After Chambers' death, black youths said there was no city park nearby, so they asked for one.

Now, Bruffett said, it would make historical sense to keep the Bro Bowl where it is so neighborhood kids who skate the bowl can learn about the history of Central Avenue — not put it blocks away.

At the end of the day Friday, Hearns and Bruffett didn't have a resolution to that disagreement, but the key, White said, is they're talking.

"Today's a day for me and Fred to come together and build a friendship," Bruffett said during the meeting at City Hall.

"We are," Hearns said.

In a first, opponents in debate over Tampa's Bro Bowl meet to seek common ground 08/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 3, 2013 12:11am]

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