Tampa favors demolishing Bro Bowl, building replica nearby

The skate park would remain in Perry Harvey Sr. Park, but drop off the list of historic places.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that a plan to demolish and rebuild the Bro Bowl in a different location at Perry Harvey Sr. Park would benefit the city and skaters. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that a plan to demolish and rebuild the Bro Bowl in a different location at Perry Harvey Sr. Park would benefit the city and skaters.WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published May 24 2014
Updated May 25 2014

TAMPA — After looking at moving the Bro Bowl, City Hall has returned to its original idea for the fate of the historic urban skate park.

The city wants to enlist the University of South Florida to do a laser-graded survey mapping the contours of the skate bowl, which would then be demolished and rebuilt in a new spot inside Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

Once demolished, the bowl would drop off the National Register of Historic Places. But city officials say groups with a range of interests would benefit.

Skateboaders would get a replica of the 1970s-era Bro Bowl, plus new runs and features designed for modern skating.

City Hall could proceed with its $6.5 million project to reimagine and rebuild Perry Harvey Sr. Park in a way that honors the history of the Central Avenue black business and nightclub district.

And, as a result of the city holding a detailed consultation with the community about the park project's impact on the bowl, federal officials could release a $30 million grant to help pay not only for Perry Harvey Park but the larger Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project.

"Everyone can have their cake and eat it, too, on this one," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who this month sent the city's proposal to state historic preservation officials for review.

Four options

The proposal — still weeks or more from being finalized — has emerged from a federally mandated process to consider what impact construction paid for with federal money would have on historic resources.

In this case, that's the 36-year-old Bro Bowl, which in October became the first skate bowl in the United States to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The process, known as a Section 106 review, is required because the city plans to use $2 million from a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant on the park.

The process doesn't mean that the city must save the bowl.

Instead, it's designed to look for options that would avoid having an impact on the bowl. If that can't be avoided, then officials need to consider ways to minimize or mitigate the impact.

Since October, the city has held a series of meetings with skateboarders, historic preservationists and black residents with ties to Central Avenue to discuss four alternatives:

• Leaving the Bro Bowl in place, but screening it from the rest of Perry Harvey Park with a curving 8-foot wall covered by climbing plants and vines.

• Demolishing it after documenting its historic significance.

• Replacing it with a new bowl at the northern end of the park (the city's preferred option). This could include incorporating pieces of the original bowl in the new skate park, officials say.

• Cutting the bowl into 20 or more pieces, then moving them to the northern end of Perry Harvey Park and reassembling them like a puzzle.

Theoretically feasible, moving the bowl has risks: It already has many cracks. Putting it back together might cost more than a $125,000 estimate. And even then, a reassembled bowl could have uneven joints that make for a rough ride.

Of the four options, the city and its historic preservation consultants at Janus Research believe only leaving the bowl in place would have a chance at preserving its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

But while leaving the bowl in place might avoid creating an adverse effect on the bowl, it would have a "serious and detrimental effect" on the larger park, Buckhorn said in his letter to the state. "The user groups for those areas will be in conflict even with the proposed buffer."

What's more, officials warn that even that would not mean the bowl would remain the ride-at-your-own-risk skaters' mecca that it's been since 1978 — a place with minimal official supervision, where skaters were free to paint the graffiti that gives the bowl its quirky punk charm.

That's because Encore Tampa is expected to bring thousands of new residents to the neighborhood and many new visitors to Perry Harvey Park. The park itself — now hardly used — will get custom artwork and sculpture, an interactive fountain for musical-water-light shows, a "History Walk" focused on story of Central Avenue and an event lawn for concerts and festivals.

With an active, new park next door, parks officials would "take a more intense management approach" to the Bro Bowl, according to a Janus Research report that accompanied Buckhorn's letter to the state.

Instead of largely ignoring the bowl, parks employees would be there when possible checking to make sure skaters had city rec cards, helmets and pads. Graffiti would be banned. The bowl would close for special events at the park.

"The Bro Bowl would not remain as open and free as it was given its proximity to other uses," City Attorney Julia Mandell said.

'Skaters in a cage'

The process leading up to the city's recommendation has not always been easy.

Emails and a transcript from an April 2 meeting bringing together various constituencies includes tense exchanges, predictions that black residents would protest if the Bro Bowl were left in place and occasional challenges to the way the city has handled the process.

At the meeting, skateboarder Shannon Bruffett did say it's been useful to be able to talk to city officials directly, not that he's liked all of the ideas, such as installing an enclosure with a gate around the Bro Bowl.

"Like putting the skaters in a cage," said Bruffett, who led the effort to get the Bro Bowl on the National Register.

The next step will be for Florida's historic preservation officer to weigh in on the city's preference and analysis. Tampa officials hope that will lead to an agreement spelling out the steps the city will take to mitigate the adverse impacts caused by the reconstruction of the bowl in a new location.

Still, if it looks like the city cannot get an agreement "in a reasonable amount of time," then Buckhorn's letter to the state said the city wants to reserve the opportunity to move ahead with the Bro Bowl in place.

It's anything but what Buckhorn wants.

After the National Register honored the Bro Bowl, he harumphed that it was "marginally significant" and talked of getting "bulldozers out there" to start the new park.

But there are risks to letting the process drag on. City attorneys say none of the $30 million grant will be released until issues surrounding the Bro Bowl are resolved. And the grant is scheduled to expire in 2019.

That might sound like a long time away, but Encore Tampa is a huge project, with nearly 800 apartments, hundreds more condominiums, up to 268,000 square feet of offices and stores, plus a hotel, a museum, a school and a grocery store. So officials don't want to jeopardize the grant or Encore Tampa through delay.

Buckhorn doesn't expect it to come to that.

"This has been a long, tortuous route," he said. "I would have had that park under construction last November but for this. But I think we're getting close to a resolution."