TAMPA — The fate of a 1970s surfer-style skate bowl – known as the Bro Bowl - could be determined by a volunteer committee that will try to bridge a divide between those who want to preserve it and those who say it stands in the way of honoring Central Avenue and 150 years of black history.
Committee members will be recruited at a public meeting on Oct. 10 at the Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. About 100 people gathered at the church Monday to review a city proposal for a $6.5 million redevelopment of the park.
Because the skate bowl is considered historical, and a portion of the park’s redevelopment budget is from federal grants, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires efforts be made to preserve it and recognize the skate bowl’s historical significance. The park is adjacent to the Encore project, a $445 million development of a mixed-income, mixed-use community that replaces the former public housing complex, Central Park Village.
The city wants to tear down the Bro Bowl and build a new facility in another location in the park. The city says the bowl in its current location would be in the way of a proposed history walk that would honor the history of Central Avenue, once populated by black-owned businesses, restaurants and night clubs.
The area north of downtown, including Central, was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. State highway widening projects destroyed much of Central Avenue in the 1970s.
Shannon Bruffett, who nominated the Bro Bowl as a historic landmark, envisions a different design that would preserve the skate bowl where it is and allow the history walk to be built there as well.
“I love history. I love Tampa,” Bruffett said. “I love what Central Avenue represents.”
Several people spoke at Monday’s meeting who grew up in the area or whose families owned businesses on Central Avenue.
“I am a child of Central Avenue,” said State Sen. Arthenia Joyner. Her father, Henry Joyner, owned the Cotton Club, which was the last business to close on Central. “Even today I am (a child of Central), and I am proud of being so because I was raised on Central Avenue. It’s something that our young people should know about.”
Cheryl Rodriguez’ s father Francisco Rodriguez had an office on Central. He was one of the first black attorneys in Tampa.
“I do respect their history, what the skateboarding community feels it needs,” she said. “But African-American history has just been so ignored in this city. I find this an opportunity to promote and celebrate its history. This is something we deserve, a recognition of our history.”
Janus Research has been hired to oversee the committee, which will look at the Bro Bowl and see if there is a way to reach agreement on its future.
The historical importance of the Bro Bowl is not in question, said Janus Research president Kenneth Hardin. The goal is to avoid an impasse on what should happen to the skate bowl, he said.
“This is going to be a challenge for all of us,” he said. “We’re going to learn about skateboarding. Skateboarders are going to learn about the history of Central Avenue.”
The Bro Bowl could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as early as next month.