Tampa skateboarders get ready to try new Bro Bowl on edge of downtown Tampa

Slabs of green, graffitied concrete sit in the center of a lot off Lamar Street, bordering I-275 in downtown Tampa. It looks like discarded rubble, but they’re actually pieces of history the city kept to pay homage to the state’s first public skatepark.

Around them, smooth concrete transitions have been poured and construction crews wrap up work on the city’s newest skatepark: a reincarnation of the historic “Bro Bowl.”

Slated to open in early April, the new skatepark is a compromise between representatives of the skateboarding community, City of Tampa, local civil rights groups and the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation. 

It’s also part of the 11-acre, $6.95-million Perry Harvey Sr. Park renovation project, named for the local Civil Rights activist and situated along North Orange Avenue downtown. 

The new park is a tribute to Tampa’s Civil Rights movement and historic Central Avenue business district and include upgraded features: a history walk with monuments, water features, green lawns and a community center for kids. 

Not a bad view for residents of the adjacent ENCORE! Tampa development, the 30-acre, 12-city-block, mixed-use project bordering the park to the east, featuring more than 1,500 residential units, office and retail space.

But for the plan to come to fruition, the former 6,500-square-foot Bro Bowl had to be moved. 

Moving a monument

Doing so proved to be a challenge. 

Not just because the downhill snake run had been in the park since it was poured in 1978, but because it also was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. 

To appease local skaters, the park’s initial plans called for a new skatepark that would pay respect to the bowl and preserve a few of its features, but replace it with a modern skatepark.

Because of the bowl’s spot on the Historic Register, negotiations were required to determine what would be done with it. Ultimately, it was decided to have engineers from the University of South Florida laser scan the bowl so an identical version could be built at the new site a few blocks north. 

So, as the vision of the new, Perry Harvey Park becomes a reality, crews from Team Pain Skateparks and Cutler Associates work to complete the reinvention of the Bro Bowl. 

What once was a skatepark catering to the ‘70s style of downhill skateboarding, the new 16,715-square-foot park will be a place for skaters of all styles and generations to enjoy.

“Because it was built with modern techniques, (the Bro Bowl) should be a lot better,” says Team Pain’s Tito Poratta, one of the new park’s designers. “We’re excited to honor the old (bowl), but this will allow for many more decades (of skateboarding).”

Poratta says he thinks kids should be excited about the street elements at the new park.

“One of the concerns of doing a replica of the old bowl was not really updating the features,” Poratta says. “Since the original Bro Bowl, skateboarding’s evolved and its disciplines have separated into different styles. The snake run was for when skateboarding was a lot more simple. You’d just ride down. Now it’s very technical. This park will reach a vast demographic of skaters.”

For those who enjoyed the slalom-style downhill bowl, its slanted banks and bumps at the bottom -- they’ll still be there. But the park also will cater to a whole new generation of young skaters, with stair sets, handrails and ledges, as well as even more transition.

“Another thing that’s interesting is (the new skatepark’s) location,” Poratta says. “It’s a free, unfenced, unsupervised, public skatepark built in a downtown setting in a major city. That in itself is pretty rad.”

A mixed bowl of (mostly positive) reactions

Even staunch supporters of preserving the original bowl acknowledge the benefits of the new skatepark, like Shannon Bruffett of the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation

Bruffett was at the bargaining table, fighting for the Bro Bowl during each meeting. He says the negotiations were worth it, even though the original bowl was torn out.

“(The involved parties) came to a compromise that embraces the history of the original bowl, while also providing a modern skate park that will serve Tampa for generations to come,” Bruffett says. 

He’s even had a chance to skate the new bowl during its construction.

“Although the new bowl will never possess the same character as the original, it captures its essence,” Bruffett says. “Since it still has the downhill approach and moguls, it remains true to a ‘70s style skatepark, which is highly significant as there are now nearly no other examples that have survived without alteration or improvement.”

Other members of the Tampa skateboarding scene seem impressed, as well, even if the original ended up being replicated.

“(The) street part looks good,” says Rob Meronek, co-founder of The Boardr, a skateboarding production company with a skateshop off North Hale Avenue in West Tampa. “(The) outdated part looks exactly replicated. Would you be hyped if I built you an exact replica of your first cell phone? No.”

Meronek says he thinks skateboarders won a new park, but the city’s taxpayers missed out, as money was spent to rebuild an outdated facility. 

“I think the majority of tax dollars are used very wisely and I commend the government on getting such a hard job done,” he says.

Meronek says he hopes The Boardr can host one of its amateur skateboarding contests at the new park later this year.

Skatepark of Tampa founder Brian Schaefer also is impressed with the new park just a few miles from his on Columbus Dr., whose course also was designed by Team Pain. 

SPoT and the Bro Bowl each were featured in a level of 2003’s Tony Hawk’s Underground video game, along with downtown Tampa and a few other popular skate spots. 

“The park is free and (doesn’t require) pads, so we all are thankful,” Schaefer says. “With the new park, there are more skate elements than before. I’m confident it will bring more skaters to the area and keep new skaters coming into SPoT and Tampa.”

Schaefer says he’d hoped a few things were created differently, though. He wishes the new design would’ve improved on the old bowl, with smoother transitions, coping and decks around the entire snake run.

“Should of, could of, would of -- it’s in the past now,” he says. “There’s a bowl and street stuff to skate, it’s free, so it’s a win-win for skateboarding!”
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