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Scholarship and park to be named for Laxer

The memory of Bern Laxer is alive and strong in SoHo.

Three months after the legendary restaurateur died, family and friends are creating scholarships and a park in his honor.

Laxer's son, David, and his family are establishing a college fund for culinary students in Florida.

Although Laxer, who propelled Bern's Steak House on S Howard into worldwide fame, was self-taught in the culinary arts, he always believed in fostering young talent, said Heather Sherer-Berkoff, a Bern's spokeswoman.

The Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is part of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, will award three students a minimum of $2,000 a year each, she said. Candidates can apply through the James Beard Foundation at www.jamesbeard.org.

The park along S Howard will be dedicated to Laxer next year. The project is in early stages and began with Mayor Dick Greco.

At a meeting of SoHo merchants, Greco asked about Luna Park and wanted to know where it got its name, said Gordon Davis, owner of St. Bart's Island House restaurant (formerly Le Bordeaux).

The half-acre, triangular park is across from Bella's Italian Cafe near Desoto and Hills avenues. It separates the restaurant district from the residential area.

It turns out the city park got its name from the surrounding subdivision once called Luna Park. The mayor suggested renaming it after Bern Laxer, who passed away on Aug. 31 after a long illness.

"It wasn't long before there was synergy behind the idea," said Davis, whose first restaurant job was at Bern's, delivering wine to tables and working in the kitchen.

"Bern Laxer was a real inspiration to many people," he said.

Among the supporters of the park: Gerald Divers, Bank of Tampa president; Don Wallace, owner of Lazy Days R.V. Super Center; and Phil Alessi, owner of Alessi Bakery.

Money from the Mayor's Beautification Fund will be used to plant hibiscus and other exotic plants in the park, Davis said. A grapevine might run through the vegetation _ symbolizing Laxer's love of wine.

Other plans call for a park swing and a $150,000 fountain adorned with statues of three women in flowing dresses.

Donations are being collected for the project, Davis said.

The dedication is tentatively scheduled for February.

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