TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn can be an impatient guy, especially when he wants to build something.
But when it comes to the Bro Bowl skate park, Buckhorn is learning there's no short cut around a federally required historic review process — even if the city offers to pick up the Bro Bowl and move it to a new home.
That was the message delivered to Buckhorn in a recent letter from Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
"The bureaucracy doesn't move quickly, and I don't think it necessarily reflects either the history or the desires of this community, but we've got to go through their process," Buckhorn said.
So while he's not happy about it , the mayor is not making the kind of provocative remarks he made in October when he criticized the decision of Washington, D.C., officials to put the 35-year-old bowl on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, he said the bowl was "not historical" and "marginally significant." He was itching to send bulldozers to Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which surrounds the bowl, to start a long-planned $6 million redevelopment of the larger park.
In November, Buckhorn wrote Detzner asking for the state to enter into an agreement in which the city would agree to move the Bro Bowl and avoid a new review triggered by the change in boundaries.
The city offered to move the bowl at a cost of $115,000 to $125,000 so that work could begin at Perry Harvey Sr. Park. After years of consultation with black community leaders, City Hall plans to transform the little-used, 11-acre park into a memorial that honors the history of the former Central Avenue business and nightclub district. Officials hoped that moving the bowl would let them start the park project sooner, not later.
Detzner's answer was, in essence, we'll see.
Because the bowl is on the National Register, federal law stipulates that moving it would require state and federal officials to consider whether its listing on the register would be compromised by a move.
But considering that question is premature now because "moving the skate bowl is only one of several options currently being explored," Detzner said this month in a letter to the mayor.
At the moment, one local review already is under way on whether and how the planned redevelopment of Perry Harvey Sr. Park would affect the Bro Bowl. The process, known as a Section 106 review, is required because the city plans to use federal funds — specifically, $2 million from a $30 million housing and urban development grant — on the park. Federal officials don't want to spend money on projects that harm historic resources.
As part of the Section 106 review, local officials are required to come up with a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the project's impact on the bowl. Considering those questions is a cultural resource committee consisting of skaters, black residents with ties to Central Avenue, historic preservationists and city officials. An engineering firm has told the city that a move is technically feasible, but it's only one option the committee has discussed.
The committee is making progress, but it takes time for people coming from very different perspectives and positions to understand each other, get beyond their emotional responses and respect each other's opinions, said Ken Hardin, president of Janus Research. Hardin's firm is facilitating the Section 106 review for the Tampa Housing Authority, the recipient of the $30 million federal grant.
Hardin said it helps that the city is supporting the review and the state has given Detzner's chief of review and compliance for historic preservation plenty of time to work with the local committee. Early on, skateboarder Shannon Bruffett, who petitioned to put the Bro Bowl on the National Register, opened the door to a possible move of the bowl, which Hardin said was a big step.
One thing that's under discussion is the way the bowl is used. Access to it is open, it's unsupervised and skaters use it at all hours. That could be a problem if it is left next to the reconfigured and more active features at Perry Harvey Sr. Park.
While an informal decision could come sooner, Hardin said getting all of the necessary sign-offs from state and federal officials probably will take another four to six months.
So at this point, with the Section 106 review of the options under way, Detzner told Buckhorn that "none of the consulting parties would be able to speculate on whether or not moving the skate bowl is the most appropriate option."
For now, city officials aren't pressing the issue.
"We were advised to basically take our foot off the gas," said Bob McDonaugh, the city's top development official. It could be that the city gets a clearer sense of what the schedule and next steps could be in another 30 days, he said.
In the meantime, McDonaugh said, "We are letting the process take its course."
Buckhorn originally was ready to start work at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in November. Then the city moved the start of construction to the first part of 2014. And now? Maybe the spring, he says. Maybe the second quarter of 2014.
"Ultimately, if we emerge from this with the ability to do the park the way we want to do the park, I'm okay with that," Buckhorn said. "I'm not happy with the delay. But when it's all said and done, I care more about the outcome than I do about the process."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.