Skateboarders rally to save Tampa’s Bro Bowl
At the Bro Bowl skateboarders take a sweet, fast ride down the snake run to the concrete bowl beneath, where they slide, spin, flip and roll up and over hard-as-rock moguls.
Or, in another move, their wheels trace the lip of the bowl, gathering speed before a steep drop to the bottom and the challenge of the moguls.
“It’s one of a kind. It’s a hard bowl to learn,” said Jimmy “Jai Ell” Levy. It was his first skate bowl when he was age 9. Now 28, he still says of the skate bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park: “I love it.”
Others share his passion for a skate bowl that, for more than 30 years, has been a cause célèbre among skateboarders nationwide. The bowl is featured on a Tony Hawk video and on hundreds of homemade videos posted on You Tube. Bro Bowl has a Facebook page where a link highlights its history as the first public skate park in Florida.
It also notes Cleo Coney as the first black professional skateboarder from Florida. The Bro Bowl was one of the venues where he learned his skills.
Recently skateboarders have rallied to save the skate bowl as city officials move closer to the start of a nearly $7 million, five-year makeover of Perry Harvey Sr. Park. Part of the plan could mean the destruction of the skate bowl which was built in the 1970s.
The Bro Bowl is among a handful of skate bowls remaining from that era.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said a new and better bowl would be built elsewhere in the park.
Earlier this month volunteers repainted the bowl and included written messages: “Preserve Tampa History” and “Save the Bowl.”
At a recent City Council meeting, Shannon Bruffett, director of the Tampa Chapter of Skateboarding Heritage Foundation, made a plea to preserve the Bro Bowl. The nonprofit organization, according to its website (www.skateboardingheritage.org), has joined with Surfrider Foundation, Tony Hawk Foundation and Florida Skate Museum to raise money to bolster efforts to preserve the skate bowl.
“It’s an important piece of history to be preserved but the purity of the surface would be degraded by moving it,” said city Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. “If we could recreate it I think it would be a better surface for people who are using it.”
On Wednesday afternoon a dozen or so people brought their skateboards, roller blades and bicycles to have fun at Bro Bowl and hang out with friends. They said they want the bowl left alone.
“It’s part of Tampa’s history,” said 19-year-old Daniel Steven. “A lot of kids came here and got out of the streets. They shouldn’t just tear it down. This bowl has a lot of memories.”
The redesigned park is envisioned as a gateway into downtown, with an archway, fountain and two walkways lined with monuments and plaques honoring the history of Central Avenue, where a black business and entertainment district once thrived. The area was wiped out by urban renewal and highway construction.
The park honors Perry Harvey Sr., a community and civil rights activist who founded the first black union in Tampa, Local 1402 of the International Longshoremen’s Association.
The city requested proposals for the park including its redesign, construction and gathering of the public’s ideas. Bids were due earlier this month.
“It wouldn’t be the same. It’s not the same spot. It’s not the same concrete,” said 19-year-old Nick Karikas. “You can’t imitate something that is original.”
It is the only free skate bowl available for people with skateboards or roller blades or whatever. “Without the Bro Bowl we don’t have anything,” Karikas said.
Byron Sharp, 19, said the city can build a better skate bowl but that doesn’t honor the bowl’s history. “It’s a landmark,” he said. If it gets torn up, the shards of concrete will be coveted by everyone who loves this bowl, Sharp added. “I just know people are going to take chunks of this.”