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Politics

Skateboarders win Round 1 of historic tag fight


Published:   |   Updated: July 26, 2013 at 09:20 AM

TALLAHASSEE - Over the objections of leaders in Tampa's black community, a state panel Thursday unanimously voted to recommend placing the skate bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 3-0 recommendation of Florida's National Register Review Board will go to the National Park Service, which maintains the register.

There, National Register staff will have 45 days to decide whether to enshrine the bowl alongside other historically significant Tampa locations, such as Ybor City and the Floridan Hotel.

It would be the first skate park on the "official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation," as the register bills itself.

Placement on the register, however, doesn't guarantee the bowl will be preserved and protected from demolition or relocation. That decision has to be made among local, state and federal authorities in a separate process to determine if a planned park renovation would adversely affect nearby historic properties.

The debate over the so-called Bro Bowl is about opposing views of history.

Skateboarders say the Bro Bowl has had an important place in skateboarding culture. Opened in 1978, it is among the last of the surfer-style concrete bowls from the 1970s. Skaters regard Jacksonville's Kona as the oldest outdoor skate park still in use.

Representatives of Tampa's black community say the bowl's existence is complicating the city's plan to revitalize the area around Orange Avenue, which is deeply rooted in local black history. Freed slaves settled the area, then known as The Scrub, after the Civil War.

Later, a vibrant black business and entertainment district emerged on Central Avenue; Ray Charles recorded and Ella Fitzgerald performed there. By the late 1960s and '70s, highway-widening projects obliterated much of the area.

The city now plans a $6.5 million makeover at the 11-acre park to highlight the history of the neighborhood.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has stated his support for building a new skate facility as part of the park's redevelopment.

"That's unfortunate," Buckhorn said when told of the decision. "It's ridiculous that they would disregard the African-American community in favor of a cement bowl. It disrupts the entire process and slows it down."

Fred Hearns, chairman of the park's citizen advisory committee, was one of several bowl opponents who came to Tallahassee on Thursday.

"We'll be on the phone with our representatives in Congress tomorrow," Hearns said. "This is incredible. I can't believe this is how government works. We're going to fight it all the way."

Shannon Bruffett, executive director of the Florida Skateboarding Heritage Foundation, which filed the bowl's nomination with the state, applauded the decision.

"It should be recognized," Bruffett said. "I think it will be a great reference point for future generations."

Bruffett said the bowl's addition to the National Register would set a precedent and help in the preservation of other skate parks and sports centers.

Federal regulation allows historical places less than 50 years old to qualify for the National Register if they are of "exceptional importance."

The bowl is "very unique, very attractive," said review board member Rick Gonzalez, a West Palm Beach architect who attended the meeting by phone. "I honestly believe there is something special about this. This is of merit for us to vote on."

Earlier, Sonja Harvey-McCoy, granddaughter of the park's namesake, told the board not to send the wrong message: "We are telling children that play is more important than history."

Jacob Spanjers, a 15-year-old Hillsborough High School student, was one of the bowl's defenders.

"Play is an equal force, I'd say," he told board members. "The park has kept me out of trouble. . There's so much love in that place. I don't see why anyone would want to move it."

Willie Robinson Jr., whose father owned a barbershop in the area, said he remembers filling out license paperwork for his dad and other small-business owners who couldn't read or write.

"I understand the passion you have," he told Spanjers. "But understand the passion we have, and that passion was long before you were born."

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

Reporter Kathy Steele contributed to this report.

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