TAMPA — Dozens of community leaders and members, some carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the summer sun, gathered Tuesday amid fencing, dirt piles and orange cones to launch the transformation of Perry Harvey Sr. Park.
The park, named for the civil rights leader and longtime head of Tampa's longshoreman's union, will be transformed into a public space that will honor and celebrate 150 years of the city's black history.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, surrounded by relatives of the late Harvey and children from a summer program at the nearby Kid Mason Community Center, said the park was a gift to future generations.
"It's important that we know how we got here," the mayor said, "and that we know the individuals who played a role in that."
Foremost among them was Harvey, who will have a statue erected in his honor.
The history of the park started in 1865, when freed slaves settled northeast of downtown in what was known as "The Scrub." Black life eventually bloomed there, as residents opened restaurants and stores along Central Avenue.
The new park will have an interactive exhibit of fountains, statues and a sound system honoring entertainers like James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and B.B. King, who visited the Apollo Ballroom and the Cotton Club. Hank Ballard wrote The Twist after watching children dance on Central Avenue. The Chubby Checker cover of the song became a national sensation in 1960.
A "History Walk" and "Leaders Row" will include statues of business, political and civic pioneers, such as Lee Davis, Robert Saunders, Christina Meacham, Moses White, Henry Joyner, Georgette Gardner and G.D. Rogers. There also will be a large lawn area set aside for concerts and festivals, as well as recreational space, such as basketball courts.
It will take about seven months to develop the 11-acre park at a cost of $6.95 million.
Buckhorn also thanked the crowd for their patience; the redevelopment plan had taken 10 years to put into action as skateboarders fought to preserve their slice of park history and keep their concrete Bro Bowl.
The bowl is gone but will be rebuilt elsewhere.
"Those were merely speed bumps — or skaters," Buckhorn said.
Three of Harvey's relatives also spoke: daughter Dorothy Keel, granddaughter Sonja McCoy and Hazel Harvey, chair of the North Tampa Housing Development Corporation.
Spelling out his name and assigning an adjective to each letter, Hazel Harvey described her father-in-law as a visionary, a dreamer and a respected leader who fought for fair housing and education for black students.
"He encouraged everybody to become a drum major for justice," she said.
McCoy said it was the kids whom organizers hoped to reach the most.
"I'm glad that future generations can ask who he was," she said of her grandfather after the ceremony. "I hope that some small aspect of what we said will stick with them."