TAMPA-A proposal to declare a skate bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park a national landmark drew varied opinions at a public meeting this week.
After more than two hours of testimony, members of Tampa's Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted 4-2 to recommend the skate bowl, known to skateboarders as the "Bro Bowl," be considered for the designation.
The volunteer advisory board's suggestion next goes to state preservation officials who will hold a review on July 25. With a favorable decision from that body the bowl's nomination would be forwarded to the National Park Service, which could declare the skate bowl a landmark.
It is not clear what landmark status could mean to city and Tampa Housing Authority plans to redesign the park. As proposed, the project entails tearing down the existing skate bowl, built in 1978, and replacing it with a modern bowl nearly three times larger but in a different location within the park. The old skate bowl would be memorialized by creating public art of the bowl's concrete moguls at the site of the new skate bowl.
A landmark designation is symbolic, meaning it legally would not prevent the skate bowl ever from being dismantled, said Dennis Fernandez, the city's historic preservation manager. But it would bring "heightened sensitivity" to decisions about the bowl's fate, especially because the park's redesign partially is funded with federal money.
"It is not something to be dismissed as irrelevant," Fernandez said.
City officials involved with the park's redesign could not be reached for comment after Tuesday's vote.
"This (Perry Harvey Sr. Park) is a very, very, very special place to a lot of people," said Fred Hearns, who headed an advisory committee nearly seven years ago that reviewed plans to redesign the park in ways to honor black history and its leaders. He spoke at Tuesday's hearing in support of moving the skate bowl.
Members of the advisory committee included relatives of Harvey Sr. In public meetings, Hearns said, the community reached a consensus favoring relocating the skate bowl, using the surrounding area to create a historic walkway with plaques, and building an outdoor stage for jazz festivals and other community events.
"That's what the African-American community would be most in support of," Hearns said. If the bowl remains, he said, "We'd have to start over from the beginning."
Funding for the redesign is estimated at about $7 million with about $3.5 million in federal dollars provided by the Tampa Housing Authority. The park is part of a sweeping project to recognize the former black business district on Central Avenue and replace a former public housing complex - Central Park Village - with Encore, a mixed-income residential and retail community.
The area known as The Scrub was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. Central Avenue was destroyed in the late 1960s and '70s by highway widening and urban renewal projects.
But skateboarders said they also share in the park's history. The surfer-style skate bowl is one of three remaining nationwide from the 1970s when the skateboarding culture emerged.
Shannon Bruffett filed the landmark nomination for the skate bowl with state preservation officials. If the city were to go forward with plans to tear it down, he said, "We'll reflect back on this and say, 'Why didn't we save it? Why are pieces of it (concrete moguls) buried in another part of the park?' "
He filed a petition with the preservation commission with about 1,900 signatures from people worldwide.
When Central Park Village was open, Bruffett said, residents there often went to the skate bowl. "It's not a racial issue," Bruffett said.
Cleo Coney, who grew up in St. Petersburg, was the first black professional skateboarder in Florida. The Bro Bowl was where he learned his skills. "It was one of the ones where we could skateboard all day," Coney told commissioners. "There are black skaters here. That (Bro Bowl) is part of them, too."
But Brian Schaefer, owner of Skate Bowl of Tampa, said a new, larger skate bowl would expose more people to the sport. "They are losing an opportunity to have 100 (skateboarders) a day and 500 a day at special events," Schaefer said.