Thursday, May 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Tampa 'Bro Bowl' mustn't stifle broad vision

A state board on Thursday will review whether a skate park in downtown Tampa should be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park has a loyal following and a storied place, but it is not historic, and designating it as such could kill a memorial to a genuine piece of Tampa's history.

The Florida National Register Review Board will consider the nomination of the Perry Harvey Sr. Skateboard Bowl as a site of national significance. Built 35 years ago in Harvey Park on the east side of downtown, the skate park is a concrete bowl that snakes and slaloms — a design reminiscent of many such parks in the 1970s that were influenced by California's surfing culture. While the park was built near a public housing project with a large number of black families, it also became a hot spot for suburban white kids — and ultimately, a tool for integration. The friendships that flourished caused the park to be known as the "Bro Bowl."

But the site of the Bro Bowl and Harvey Park has a more sweeping history. The Central Avenue area was settled by freed slaves in 1864. Called "The Scrub," the area was the heart of the black business and entertainment district. Big-name entertainers from Cab Calloway to Ella Fitzgerald played there. During the first half of the 20th century, the area flourished with stores, restaurants, hotels and theaters. But by the 1960s, urban decay began to spark new redevelopment projects from the Central Park Village public housing project to the park. The city razed Central Park Village in 2007 and is rebuilding the site again with the 29-acre Encore development, which will include apartments, offices and a freshly redesigned Harvey Park.

Granting protected status to the Bro Bowl could interfere with a park design that honors a much deeper part of city history. The Bro Bowl property would become a great lawn in Harvey Park — a large and much-needed open space that would have broad public use and serve as a gathering spot for the area. The park's design has a flow that should not be interrupted; green space, community centers and historical markers offer passive space to reflect alongside restrooms, parking and stage areas that make any park functional.

Historic status could cause a delay or rearrangement of the park design because federal money is helping to pay for the redevelopment of Encore and the park. That would be a shame in practical terms and a loss to Tampa's history. The park plans call for building a much larger skate park north of the current site, where parking and access is better. The state should not allow a beloved skate park to prevent a truly historic site from taking its place in civic life again. That would be a poor use of preservation that would turn the Bro Bowl's legacy on its head.

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