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Compromise on Tampa's Bro Bowl would be one for history books

In Tampa's simmering controversy over which history is worth saving, the skateboard crowd got the love it was looking for when it comes to the urban skate park known as the Bro Bowl.

Impassioned skaters talked up how for 35 years kids from the 'burbs and the housing projects alike came together at the graffitied concrete bowl at the edge of downtown to roll its curves and peaks. How it's one of the last such places left.

And they scored big, recently landing the Bro Bowl on the National Register of Historic Places. It's enough to make a Bro Bowl believer say: Dude!

But the city's biggest booster, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is not high-fiving. He is not fist-bumping. He is instead saying things like "marginally significant" and "absurd." There has been mention of bulldozers.

And who could blame him, given the rest of the story?

What would otherwise be a feel-good tale of efforts to save a quirky and interesting chunk of concrete also has its consequences — ones that could tangle a hard-fought push to honor Tampa's rich black history.

I've said it before and say so again: There's history and there's history, and a history lesson on perspective might be in order.

At that edge of downtown, seriously blighted public housing once stood where the impressive redevelopment called Encore now rises. Fronting this is Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which is slated for a $6 million makeover to showcase its past.

You want a past?

Black residents settled here after the Civil War, created their own thriving business and entertainment district in the face of Jim Crow segregation, hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway and James Brown. It's considered the birthplace of the Twist.

Renovation plans call for a history walk, statues and nods to life on Central Avenue. It will be a true neighborhood park.

And the Bro Bowl sits in the midst it. And skaters want it to stay. Historical stalemate.

That recent national designation does not cancel the renovation plans, which include, for the record, a three-times-bigger skate park just north with parking and shade. It's expected to incorporate elements and even pieces of the old Bro Bowl.

A historic marker could tell visitors of the Bro Bowl's past. Old photographs, too.

But $2 million in federal money for that park makeover complicates things. Now there must be a plan on hand to minimize, avoid or mitigate the impact on the now-officially historic bowl. (Isn't a bigger, better park a pretty good mitigator?) A committee representing both sides and some history types is to meet. State and federal officials must sign off.

And a lot of people who want to see this park rise as planned will have to wait and see. Getting the Bro Bowl on the National Register is impressive, no doubt about it. Skateboard enthusiasts should consider that designation an accomplishment to honor its history.

Can they now move forward in the spirit of compromise — one that includes a new skate park that pays homage to the Bro Bowl? Can they consider all that happened in this place over decades and decades before the first drop of skate-able concrete was ever poured?

That would be some Tampa history for you.

Compromise on Tampa's Bro Bowl would be one for history books 10/31/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 6:47pm]
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