Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Buckhorn: National historic designation shouldn't save Bro Bowl

TAMPA — Bob Buckhorn is not impressed.

In Washington, D.C., the keeper of the National Register announced Friday that Tampa's Bro Bowl skateboard park belongs on the nation's list of its most important historic places. It is the first skate park so honored.

At Tampa City Hall, the mayor does not agree.

"It's not historical, and it's marginally significant," Buckhorn said Tuesday of the 35-year-old graffiti-splotched concrete bowl.

Worse, from the city's perspective, it's in the way. City plans call for demolishing the Bro Bowl as part of a $6 million makeover of Perry Harvey Sr. Park. Skaters would get a new skate park — three times the size, partly modeled on the Bro Bowl — a few blocks away. And Perry Harvey Sr. Park would be turned into a memorial to the history of the Central Avenue black business and entertainment district.

"I want to get bulldozers out there, and I want to get this park built," Buckhorn said. The Bro Bowl "may be significant to a very minute percentage of the population," but alongside "the history of the African-American community in Tampa and Central Avenue, it absolutely pales in comparison."

From after the Civil War through the Cold War, Central Avenue served as the commercial and cultural hub of Tampa's segregated black community.

Its nightclubs showcased Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King. A style of dancing organic to Central Avenue inspired the Hank Ballard song The Twist, which Chubby Checker turned into a national craze.

The new Perry Harvey Park will have statues, a history walk and displays on different aspects of life on Central Avenue. And the skate bowl, now at the center of the park and thus in the way of the memorials, will be moved to the northern end of the park.

"A win-win for everybody," Buckhorn said. "I just don't understand how you can look at those two historical perspectives and somehow come to the conclusion that they are comparable or equal or deserving of the same level of attention."

Skateboarders had pushed for the designation in hopes of saving the bowl. Still, at this point, Buckhorn said, the federal decision to put it on the National Register of Historic Places "seems to be more of a meaningless designation."

But because the city plans to use federal funds — specifically, $2 million from a $30 million housing and urban development grant — on Perry Harvey Park, officials are required to come up with a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the project's impact on the bowl, which is considered a historic resource.

At an organizational meeting this month, a roomful of skateboarders and black residents talked at, over and past each other, but the evening ended with the creation of a committee that includes representatives of both sides, plus historic preservationists, to work on a mitigation plan.

That process is likely to go through January, though the Tampa Housing Authority, which is coordinating the federal grant, says the schedule depends on the degree of collaboration.

Once the local group comes up with an approach to mitigation, Florida's historic preservation office and the U.S. Department of the Interior need to sign off on the plan, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said. As the administrator of the federal grant, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the last stop.

Officials have said mitigation could include installing a plaque on the site of the Bro Bowl, documenting its significance through photos or other records, or incorporating pieces of the old bowl in the new skate park.

If, however, the resulting mitigation plan leaves the Bro Bowl in place and intact, "it won't stop the project, but it certainly will throw a wrench into it," Buckhorn said.

"I find it absurd," he said, "but we're going to let the process play out."

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