Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa City Council to vote on $7 million park project that would move the Bro Bowl

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TAMPA — After nine months of delay, City Hall is poised to move ahead with construction of a new Perry Harvey Sr. Park — and the removal of the current Bro Bowl skateboard park.

The City Council is scheduled to vote today on setting a guaranteed maximum price of nearly $6.95 million for the new park. If the council approves, the contractor likely would fence the park in early September and begin construction a few weeks later.

That means skateboarders probably have less than two months to enjoy the historic, graffiti-spattered bowl, which last October became the first skate park in America to be named to the National Register of Historic Places.

As part of the park project, the Bro Bowl would be measured and laser-scanned, then demolished and rebuilt as part of a new, larger skate park at the northern end of Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

More important, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is that the larger park will pay tribute to the history of Tampa's African-American community.

"A place to play, to gather and to reflect," he said.

"I don't think there will be anything else like it south of Atlanta that celebrates black history," said Fred Hearns, an expert on the history of Tampa's African-American neighborhoods and the chairman of a citizens advisory committee on plans for the Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

City officials plan to make that statement right at the entrance to the park, which will feature 13- to 15-foot-tall sculptures of a couple dancing The Twist next to an oversized jukebox that will be wired for sound. Fountains in a nearby splash play area will be able to be programmed to move in time to the music for special events.

Why The Twist? Because the long and skinny 11-acre park sits over the old Central Avenue, once the beating heart of Tampa's black business and nightlife scene. Central Avenue attracted "Chitlin' Circuit" stars like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King. The story goes that Hank Ballard wrote The Twist after watching kids dance on Central Avenue.

The new park also will have a "history walk" that memorializes places and events along Central Avenue, a statue of Harvey, a fearless Tampa union boss and civil rights pioneer, a "leaders row" honoring prominent community figures and a lawn for concerts, art shows and other events.

Construction is expected to take about 12 months. Part of the funding is coming from a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant for the neighboring Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project.

Covering 12 city blocks, Encore is rising on the site of the old Central Park Village public housing complex. It is planned to have 794 apartments, hundreds more condominiums, offices, a hotel, a museum, a school and a grocery store.

Buckhorn said Encore has always been about rebuilding the historic Central Park area, restoring hope and creating new homes, and the new Perry Harvey Park will fit right in.

But it has not been easy to get to this point.

Federal rules discourage the use of federal funds like the Choice Neighborhoods grant on projects that disturb historic places. As a result, the city has had to go through a lengthy process to evaluate whether there were alternatives to disturbing the Bro Bowl — city officials concluded no, and state historic officials agreed in May — and to plan ways to mitigate for the loss.

Re-creating the bowl is a central part of those plans, which are being written into an agreement between local officials and state and federal historic preservation officials.

The re-creation envisions transplanting the Bro Bowl's moguls at the new skateboarding park, but does not extend to re-spraying the bowl's skate-punk graffiti.

"That was never legal," City Attorney Julia Mandell said. "Just because we didn't clean it up didn't mean it was legal."

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.

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