TAMPA — Lost in the debate about the fate of the "Bro Bowl" skate park, Tampa officials say, is an important piece of local history.
It's not the history of the 35-year-old bowl.
And it's not even the larger history of Central Avenue — though officials say the area's story should play a bigger role in the debate.
What's lost, they say, is the history of the project that prompted skaters to petition to put the bowl on the National Register of Historic Places.
That project is a planned $6 million redevelopment of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — the 11-acre park where the Bro Bowl is located. Planning for the makeover began seven years ago next week with a series of community meetings, the first of them just as tumultuous and charged with emotion as the current debate.
Now the city wants to pause, hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday and remind everyone about the plans for the larger park and how they were created.
"This is basically an opportunity to expose more members of the community to how the plan has evolved over time," said Bob McDonaugh, the city's administrator for economic opportunity.
Construction at Perry Harvey Sr. Park is expect to start early next year and take 18 months to two years to complete. Although officials in Washington, D.C., have yet to decide whether to add the Bro Bowl to the National Register of Historic Places, the city is proceeding with plans for the larger park's redevelopment. On Thursday, the City Council awarded a $36,000 contract to Cutler Associates of Tampa to prepare construction plans and cost estimates.
At the heart of the city's design is an effort to honor Tampa's African-American history, especially as it grew up along and around Central Avenue.
Central Avenue, established by freed slaves after the Civil War, was a black enclave unlike anything Tampa has seen since.
It had lawyers, dentists, grocers and barbershops alongside big companies, such as Central Life Insurance and the Tampa office of the Atlanta-based Afro-American Life Insurance. Jazz great Ray Charles got his start at such clubs as the Blue Room and the Apollo Ballroom. Ella Fitzgerald wrote A-Tisket, A-Tasket at the kitchen table of the old Jackson boarding house, and a local dance step inspired Hank Ballard to write The Twist.
But the entire neighborhood — 387 multistory buildings — was bulldozed after riots in 1967 damaged buildings and the nearby Maryland Avenue slum was razed, forcing out Central Avenue's workforce and customer base. City Hall received a federal grant in 1973 to convert the area into the long, grassy corridor that became Perry Harvey Sr. Park.
Today the park includes the Bro Bowl, some basketball courts, a playground and not much else.
But as planned, the next version of the park would include:
• A history walk that would take pedestrians through a timeline outlining Central Avenue's development, its businesses, buildings and people.
• A fountain featuring lights and music.
• Open lawns with space for concerts or other events.
• Historical markers, but more than just bronze plaques. Some could be three-dimensional. Some could be interactive. Some could use photos to re-create a scene of life along Central Avenue. Some could use QR codes to connect to photos, video, sound or other online resources.
All, city officials say, would focus on the lives of historic local figures (Moses White, C. Blythe Andrews Sr., the Rev. A. Leon Lowry) places (the Cotton Club, the Lincoln Theater, Cozy Corner) or visitors (James Brown, Cab Calloway, B.B. King, Duke Ellington, the Ink Spots).
City plans call for demolishing the Bro Bowl, which sits in the center of Perry Harvey Park, where city officials and black community leaders say it would crowd and detract from several key features of the redeveloped park, including a statue of union boss and civil rights leader Perry Harvey Sr.
But city officials plan to build a new $600,000 skate bowl three times as large at the northern end of Perry Harvey Sr. Park. It will have its own parking and rest rooms, a sloping skate run similar to the Bro Bowl, plus features suited to more contemporary styles of skateboarding.
Like the Bro Bowl, it would be all concrete, free and unsupervised, with no limits on skate time. And like the rest of the park, it was designed using the ideas of skateboarders who would use it, officials say.
"The entire community was solicited and listened to in the design of the park," said Brad Suder, superintendent of the parks department's planning, design and natural resources team. "It's not an either/or. There's something there for everybody."