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Tampa's Bro Bowl aims for National Register of Historic Places

The city plans to demolish the Bro Bowl as part of a makeover at Perry Harvey Sr. Park that includes a new, larger skate park.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

The city plans to demolish the Bro Bowl as part of a makeover at Perry Harvey Sr. Park that includes a new, larger skate park.

TAMPA — It was designed by a city parks employee, built in 1978 and is known worldwide as one of the last of its kind.

Now the Bro Bowl skateboard park near downtown Tampa has been proposed for the National Register of Historic Places.

The idea is getting a serious look.

On July 25, the Florida National Register Review Board will hold a public meeting in Tallahassee to consider an application filed by 41-year-old Shannon Bruffett of Tampa.

"Skateboarding as a culture is still relatively new and … the Bro Bowl reflects a part of that culture," said Bruffett, who has been riding the bowl for 25 years.

It's not so much about whether the Bro Bowl is a modern skating facility, Bruffett said.

"It's more of a monument and a reflection of a time gone by," he said. "There are very few examples surviving throughout the nation."

There are three, say Bruffett and his supporters, who include some big names in skateboarding.

Of skate parks built in the late 1970s and the early 1980s — a golden age for skateboarders — the only ones left are the Bro Bowl, Kona in Jacksonville and Derby Park in Santa Cruz, Calif.

But Kona is privately owned and Derby Park was remodeled last year.

"Basically, it's the last of its kind, because it's a municipal park, and it's in its original form," Bruffett said during a June 11 meeting of Tampa's Historic Preservation Commission.

Bruffett's presentation to the commission included video testimonials in support of the Bro Bowl from inductees to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and university professors from as far away as London.

But in the eyes of City Hall, the Bro Bowl is marked for demolition.

The Bro Bowl can be found at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, on N Orange Avenue, south of the Interstate 275-Interstate 4 interchange.

City Hall plans a $6.5 million makeover at the park. Part of the work calls for taking out the Bro Bowl and building a skate park nearby that would be three times as big, with parking and shade.

If the state review board finds that the skate park meets the criteria for being added to the register, it will submit a formal nomination to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C., where the final decision would be made.

Still, not everyone — not even all skateboarders who spoke to the Historic Preservation Commission — wants to save it.

What's more, saving the Bro Bowl would complicate the city's plans for Perry Harvey Park — a project being done in conjunction with the ambitious Encore urban redevelopment initiative.

Covering 12 city blocks, Encore began with the demolition of the old Central Park Village public housing apartments. Eventually it is planned to have up to $450 million worth of new apartments, condominiums, offices and stores, plus a hotel, a museum, a school and a grocery store.

Encore is being designed to honor the history of Central Avenue, once a thriving area of black businesses, restaurants and nightclubs.

Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King all played the clubs of Central Avenue. After seeing some Central Avenue kids dancing, Hank Ballard wrote The Twist, made famous by Chubby Checker. And Hollywood went there to film parts of a 1964 civil rights drama, Black Like Me.

Last year, Encore received a $30 million federal grant, part of which is earmarked for improvements to Perry Harvey Park.

If the Bro Bowl were listed on the National Register, "we'd have to do some type of reconfiguration" at Perry Harvey Park, said Bob McDonaugh, the city's top development official.

In planning for the park, McDonaugh said the city consulted longtime residents, who wanted the redevelopment to celebrate the history of Central Avenue.

And that history is profound, said Fred Hearns, a retired city official who chaired a citizens advisory committee on plans for the park.

Nearly 150 years ago, emancipated slaves settled in an area that started as the Scrub and grew over time into the community along and around Central Avenue.

Perry Harvey Park itself has an important history, Hearns said. It was created after three days of rioting after Tampa police shot a black teenager in 1967.

At the time, black youngsters didn't have a park they could go to nearby, so they asked for one.

"That's the kind of history that we're talking about on that site," Hearns said. "One hundred fifty years of history trumps everything else over there. I'm sorry, it just does."

Bruffett suggested to the Historic Preservation Commission that the Bro Bowl doesn't compete so much with the history of Central Avenue as continue it.

"Everybody keeps talking about the history of Central Avenue," he said, "but what you have to understand is there's not a line between the black culture of that area and the skateboarding culture of that area."

Because it was near Central Park Village and because it drew skaters from all over, the Bro Bowl "served as a means of integration between diverse groups," Bruffett said.

"We were forced to interact," he said, "and that's part of the reason why this bowl and its location are so important."

The Historic Preservation Commission voted 4-2 to recommend to the state that the Bro Bowl be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was an issue with a lot of emotion, commissioners said.

"We're all very much conflicted and confronted with the fact that history is not static: it's very dynamic, it's very living and it's constantly changing," said architect Stephen Sutton, who made the motion in favor of listing the Bro Bowl.

From the home of Tampa's African-American community and a park born in that community's tumultuous history, Sutton said something has grown beyond the place to attract people of all races, all ages and all backgrounds.

"This is really quite unique."

Tampa's Bro Bowl aims for National Register of Historic Places 06/22/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 23, 2013 12:15am]

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