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Tampa's Bro Bowl now on National Register of Historic Places

The Bro Bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa opened in the late 1970s and is one of the last three remaining skate parks in the nation built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kona in Jacksonville is privately owned, and Derby Park in Santa Cruz, Calif., was remodeled last year.
The Bro Bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa opened in the late 1970s and is one of the last three remaining skate parks in the nation built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kona in Jacksonville is privately owned, and Derby Park in Santa Cruz, Calif., was remodeled last year.
Published Oct. 29, 2013

TAMPA — To the delight of skateboarders trying to save it, and the chagrin of city officials planning to honor black history there instead, Tampa's Bro Bowl is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation from the National Park Service comes amid debate over the future of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — home to the iconic skateboard bowl, but also part of the city's vision for redeveloping the Central Avenue area and honoring its rich history.

After hearing arguments, a state review board voted in July to recommend including the Bro Bowl on the National Register.

The park service agreed and listed it Oct. 7. But the announcement was delayed until now by the government shutdown.

"It's a pretty big deal to get any kind of skateboarding thing recognized nationally like that," said Kyle Sokol, owner of Florida Skate Museum in St. Petersburg and board member of the Skateboard Heritage Foundation. "We worked hard to get it on there."

The city has plans to demolish the Bro Bowl as part of a $6.5 million redevelopment plan.

The 29-acre Encore Tampa urban development project last year won a $30 million federal grant, some of which is earmarked for the park. Plans for the park include a history walk honoring former black leaders of the area. A larger skate park would be built nearby.

Because federal money will help pay for the park's redevelopment, officials are required to devise a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the impact on the bowl. That could range from putting a plaque on the site to documenting its significance to incorporating pieces of the bowl in the new skate park.

"Ultimately, it's that process which will determine what happens to the skate park and to Perry Harvey Sr. Park," city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said Monday. "The new designation doesn't really affect that process."

The nonprofit Skateboard Heritage Foundation was formed to advocate for the Bro Bowl and protect one of the last three remaining skate parks in the nation built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kona in Jacksonville is privately owned, and Derby Park in Santa Cruz, Calif., was remodeled last year. Skateboarders attended public meetings on the issue, bringing video testimony from Skateboarding Hall of Fame members and historians as far away as London. "I think it definitely will make it harder to be demolished," Sokol said.

Fred Hearns, a retired Tampa city official who chaired a citizens advisory committee on plans for Perry Harvey Sr. Park, said he wasn't surprised by the decision.

"It's not the decision I wanted, but it's the one we're going to have to live with," he said.

The area around Central Avenue is a legacy of the African Americans who built the community there, he said. He wants to see that legacy respected.

"It's what I leave my children," he said. "The story of how African Americans rose out of slavery to produce one of the leading African-American business and entertainment districts."

Also important, he said, is making sure the federal dollars don't leave Tampa. The decision may even prove to be a good thing, he said, if it encourages all sides to come to a solution.

"This thing has dragged on now for four months," he said. "It's time to put it to bed and move forward, and build something everybody can be proud of here in Tampa."

Joel Jackson, 71, who was an urban planner in Tampa when he designed the skate park, said he hasn't taken sides in the debate.

"When I walked away from the skateboard park originally, it became the community's, and it's no longer mine," he said Monday. "It's not mine to say, really."

Still, news of the historical designation was hard to believe.

"I did this so long ago, and over the years I never realized that it would have been so popular with young people there," he said. "I'm just thrilled."

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