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Tampa's Bro Bowl merits historical status, state board decides

TALLAHASSEE — The controversy over Tampa's downtown skateboard park is ramping up.

The Bro Bowl, as it's affectionately known, was dubbed the "best remaining example" of only four '70s skateboard bowls left in the nation during a state review board meeting Thursday.

The board decided the bowl should be added to the National Register of Historic Places — to the chagrin of city officials and black residents who attended the meeting and hope to honor a different history at the site instead.

"I'm speechless," said Fred Hearns, a retired Tampa city official who chaired a citizens advisory committee on plans for Perry Harvey Sr. Park, where the Bro Bowl is located. "I'm going to fight it all the way."

The board's unanimous recommendation goes first to state historic preservation officer Robert Bendus. If he agrees with the decision, it's sent to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. The federal staff then has 45 days to make a decision.

Even if the bowl wins federal historic status, it may be only a symbolic victory.

The decision "will have no effect on the eventual preservation or demolition of the bowl," said Timothy Parsons, deputy state historic preservation officer.

Nevertheless, passions ran high Thursday as speakers rose for and against the bowl, which is pegged for demolition as part of a $6.5 million makeover at the park.

Plans include a history walk honoring former black leaders of the Central Avenue area. A much larger, $600,000 skateboard structure would be built in another section of the park. But skateboarders said this bowl, known worldwide, is worth saving.

"Perry Harvey Sr. Park has kept me out of trouble, way more trouble than I would have been in if I would have done something other than skating," Tampa skateboarder Jacob Spangers, 15, said at the meeting. "That's my outlet for staying out of jail. There is so much love in that place."

The battle over the Bro Bowl is partly generational.

"I understand the passion you have," Tampa resident Willie Robinson Jr., 65, told him. "And understand the passion we have. Ours came before you were born."

To Robinson, the skateboard bowl is taking focus away from the historical significance of the area, first settled by freed slaves.

Several residents, including Perry Harvey Sr.'s granddaughter, Sonja, spoke of the heyday of Central Avenue, when it was the hot spot for churches, shops, nightclubs and music.

Hearns said the dance, the Twist, was discovered there. Ray Charles recorded his first song nearby and entertainers including Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and B.B. King performed.

"There's nothing to signify they were ever there," Hearns said.

In 1974, the last of the black businesses closed. The skateboard bowl was built in 1978.

Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa's manager of historic preservation and urban design, says the skateboard bowl doesn't have the "extraordinary importance" worthy of national status.

But the board agreed with skateboarders who said the bowl represents the golden age of skateboarding.

Shannon Bruffet, who collected 2,100 signatures in support, called the vote "astounding," though it's no guarantee the 35-year-old bowl won't be demolished eventually.

The park is planned as a gateway to the Encore urban redevelopment initiative, covering 12 city blocks and honoring the history of Central Avenue.

Members of the Florida National Register of Historic Places board stressed they were determining only if the bowl is eligible as a historic site — not weighing its value against the history of the neighborhood or other plans for the park.

"We're merely looking at this: Is the Bro Bowl in Perry Harvey Sr. Park eligible for listing in the National Register?" said Barbara E. Mattick, deputy state historic preservation officer.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who did not attend the meeting, said the city would "argue this as far up the food chain as we can."

"I don't think it's grounded in reality," he said. "I don't think it's reflective of certainly the majority of the opinions of the people in this community and in particular is insensitive to the history of the African-American residents of Tampa."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

Tampa's Bro Bowl merits historical status, state board decides 07/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 12:02am]
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