Old Meets New: Transformation Of Tampa Neighborhood Shapes What's Next For Bro Bowl

The unmistakable sound of skateboards rolling on concrete has been heard in downtown Tampa's Perry Harvey, Sr. Park (also known as Central Park) since the late 1970s when the city's first skatepark, the Bro Bowl, was built.

A landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bro Bowl on North Orange Avenue is now at the center of a neighborhood transformation driven by development of the new ENCORE! Tampa community being built where public housing once stood.

Squarely situated at the intersection of old meets new in urban Tampa, the question facing skateboarders and the greater community is what comes next.

City of Tampa and community leaders want to keep the building momentum going and are offering nearby land and resources to rebuild the skateboard park complete with modern-day accoutrements while salvaging key pieces of the bowl's and the neighborhood's history.

For the past several months, developers and city officials have been meeting with skateboarders who want to preserve their sacred, graffiti-stained, downhill cement bowl, skateboarders who want to see a more modern skatepark built nearby and neighborhood residents who are determined to see the park's significant Civil Rights era history preserved.

Among the people involved are representatives of the Tampa Housing Authority, the Florida Historic Preservation Office, the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation, the Perry Harvey Park Advisory Committee, Tampa Preservation and consulting firm Janus Research, which drafted a report laying out the negative effects to the bowl if it remains where it currently sits.

In a May letter to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, deputy state historic preservation officer Timothy Parsons made it clear that although preserving the bowl in its current state would be ideal for historic preservation, using laser scanning techniques to document and rebuild the bowl in another location in the park with original elements makes up for the negative effects of demolishing it.

Parsons also suggested that the city should consider installing state historic markers at the bowl's original site, interactive historic displays and even possibly providing funding or space for a future Tampa skateboard museum.

Three other options being considered include leaving the bowl unchanged, adding buffering mechanisms to separate it from the new elements of the park, or just demolishing the bowl altogether.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

For many skateboarders, one of the draws of skating at the Bro Bowl is the sense of freedom that comes with the experience. It's rare to see skaters hassled for not wearing protective gear or for skating after dusk. But, with ENCORE! Tampa rising next door, that wouldn't last, even if the bowl remains where it is.

Tampa City Attorney Julia Mandell says that if the historic Bowl stays, skaters will experience a different type of management at the park, a part of the debate she thinks many proponents of keeping the Bowl don't realize.

"You're taking a sleepy park and putting a large population around it,'' Mandell says. "You can't expect the management of the park to stay the same. There are more risks involved.''

Mayor Buckhorn mentioned the current Bro Bowl in his 2014 State of the City address on March 25 inside the historic Armature Works building.

"Perry Harvey Park will soon be able to accommodate the thousands of residents that will call ENCORE! home,'' said Buckhorn. "We must give those residents an active park that they can enjoy, a park that reflects the history of Central Avenue and that pays homage to the many historic contributions of generations of African-Americans. A concrete skateboard park pales in comparison to the history of our African-American community in Central Park.''

Historical Revitalization

The history Buckhorn referenced is of a neighborhood once known as "The Scrub,'' several blocks around the area where Interstate 275 now crosses Interstate 4. The Scrub developed into a busy business district in the 1950s along Central Avenue and hosted some of the most well-known African-American musicians of our time, including Ray Charles. But, by 1974, not much remained of the Central Avenue district.

The park, named after Perry Harvey, Sr., a local Civil Rights leader, was developed in 1979 to preserve the neighborhood's heritage. Today, almost 40 years later, the park is due to be upgraded, including a ''history walk'' that details the park's past, as well as a large, interactive fountain. But, no Bro Bowl.

With the bowl in the way of future development, the city originally offered to build a new, updated 18,000-square-foot skatepark on the north end of the park that would include elements of the original Bro Bowl, as well as new obstacles for skateboarders of all skillsets to enjoy.

In the late '70s, cruising downhill slalom-style and sliding on the board's wheels at high speeds was the trend. Today, most street skateboarders prefer stairs, ledges and rails, which all are absent at the Bowl, but are incorporated into the new design proposed by Team Pain Skateparks.

The original bowl, designed by retired city Urban Planner Joel Jackson and built in 1978 on the edge of what would become Perry Harvey Sr. Park, is one of the last that remain from that era of skateboarding, one reason that the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation's Shannon Bruffett recommended the Bro Bowl for the National Register last year, a designation it officially received in October.

"(The Bro Bowl) is one of only a handful of concrete skateparks that has survived from an era that shaped the culture and sport of skateboarding as we know it,'' Bruffett explains. "Nothing is wrong with the construction of a new park. Modern skateboarding elements should be added so all disciplines and interests can be accommodated. That being said, the concept of destroying history, only for it to be commemorated a short distance away, is contrary to the purpose of preservation.''

Boarding In The Future

Other members of the local skateboarding community agree to disagree.

"Even when I moved (to Tampa) in 1991, the (bowl) was useless and outdated, unless you skated like a 40-year-old man,'' says Rob Meronek, co-founder of local skateboarding company The Boardr. "There’s nothing wrong with that (especially since today I'm older than 40), but the majority of skateboarders just skate differently than what the Bro Bowl allows them to do.''

Brian Schaefer, founder and owner of Skatepark of Tampa also says that he favors a new park.

"(The Bro Bowl) is a piece of history and I have feelings for both sides,'' Schaefer says. "But, if there was an opportunity to rebuild a better replica, keeping the dimensions and transitions of the original, I support that. If (the Bro Bowl)'s going to hold up the development of a new skatepark, I would support taking it down.''

Matt Wiley is a Seminole Heights-based freelancer and University of South Florida journalism grad, working toward his Master's in journalism at USFSP. He also works as a news reporter in the New Tampa & Wesley Chapel area and enjoys skateboarding around the city, as well as hitting local breweries with his girlfriend Vanessa and dingo dog Otis. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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