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In the spirit of compromise, the Bro Bowl should go

Mark Ruble, 36, skates at the the Bro Bowl in Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park on Thursday evening, Aug 1. “There are warehouse parks everywhere - they’re a dime a dozon - but there’s nothing else like this,” Ruble said. The skateboarding basin has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, provoking a controversy with city officials and black leaders who say the bowl should be demolished to make way for park improvements that honor Tampa’s African-American history along Central Avenue.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Mark Ruble, 36, skates at the the Bro Bowl in Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park on Thursday evening, Aug 1. “There are warehouse parks everywhere - they’re a dime a dozon - but there’s nothing else like this,” Ruble said. The skateboarding basin has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, provoking a controversy with city officials and black leaders who say the bowl should be demolished to make way for park improvements that honor Tampa’s African-American history along Central Avenue.

At the edge of downtown Tampa near the interstate sits a history lesson in capitulation, compromise and settling.

It's a place important to this city's black history and to its future — a place where freed slaves once settled, where Central Avenue thrived when white businesses were unwelcoming, where a neighborhood park was created for kids following riots after police shot a black teenager.

Now, a graffitied 1970s skateboard bowl threatens plans for a rebirth of that park. And it shouldn't.

But more on capitulation, compromise and settling in a minute.

If what's known as the "Bro Bowl" were anywhere else, I'd be first in line for a "Back Off The Bowl" T-shirt. It's a legend, one of the last of its kind, a concrete chunk of history.

But there's history and there's the future, and maybe a way to honor both.

What had become some of the city's saddest public housing was torn down nearby a few years ago. Now, a remarkable residential development called Encore is slowly taking shape. It's an impressive urban rebirth of a community that will include public art, a museum in an old church and a revitalized city park — and a nod to the music once made there by the likes of Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway.

The reimagined Perry Harvey Sr. Park is an important piece, with plans for a great lawn and a history walk to honor black leaders.

But there's a stumbling block in the form of the Bro Bowl, sitting front and center in the park.

Some skateboard enthusiasts began a push for national historic designation for the bowl that could make changes to the park far more difficult. It's already passed at the state level. This week, even U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor weighed in with a letter to the keeper of the National Register saying she "cannot support anything that would obstruct plans to bring this area … back to its former glory."

And for the record, the Bro Bowl could be bulldozed tomorrow, if that's what the city decided.

Here's the thing: The park plan includes building a new skate park three times the size not far away, with parking and shade. Many people involved thought this was a good compromise, and also a done deal.

Also for the record, back when urban renewal flattened the last of those Central Avenue businesses in the name of "progress," the city did not offer to rebuild them bigger and better nearby.

Here's a good thing that's come from the clash of histories: People on opposite sides are talking. They've prayed together, even. Fred Hearns, a retired city official determined to see this park rise, stood with Shannon Bruffett, a skateboard enthusiast pushing for the historic designation.

"I like the guy, personally," Hearns told me. "I think he likes me. I still disagree 100 percent with his position."

In the spirit of compromise (capitulation, etc.), there has been talk of a plaque at the bowl's original site and of artfully incorporating pieces of it into the new incarnation. Even more intriguing is talk of the possibility of moving the Bro Bowl as a whole, though some purists may think the original location is equally important.

But this long-awaited park should rise as planned. If there's something to be learned in the rich history of this place, it's that compromise, capitulation and settling can go both ways.

In the spirit of compromise, the Bro Bowl should go 08/15/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 15, 2013 10:02pm]
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