TAMPA - Heated words were exchanged Tuesday over a skate bowl just north of downtown Tampa that some consider a landmark but others see as an unnecessary recreational area that treads on the city's history.
On one side are those who say the skate bowl at Perry Harvey Sr. Park is the last of its kind and a significant location in skateboarding culture since the 1970s.
On the other are some leaders of Tampa's black community who say the existence of the skate bowl is foiling the city's long-range plan to revitalize the area around Orange Avenue, which is deeply rooted in local black history.
On Tuesday, those who favored the skate bowl verbally clashed with those who want it out of the park.
"It's the last piece of history, you're going to destroy it!" Nick Leon shouted at about eight people holding signs declaring that the skate bowl "skates on my history."
The future of the skate bowl and the park could be resolved July 25 in Tallahassee, when state historic preservation officials will decide if the skate bowl is worthy enough to be deemed a national landmark.
If approved, the historic designation could halt the city's plans of a $6.5 million makeover for the 11-acre park at 1200 N. Orange Ave. that would focus on the history of the black community that once thrived there.
"A statue of Perry Harvey Sr. should be the focal point here," Fred Hearns said about the leader of Tampa's first black union and segregation-era activist. "This is a cultural site."
Hearns is a member of a volunteer committee that made suggestions on how to honor the history of Central Avenue, just east of the park, which was once a vibrant business and entertainment hub of the black community.
Leon said the skate bowl --known as the Bro Bowl in skateboarding circles-- is the last landmark of its kind.
"The best skaters in the world were here," Leon said. "They would not want to see it torn down."
He turned to the supporters of relocating the bowl and shouted, "The bowl will stay!"
Hearns shouted back, "The bowl will go! Enjoy it while you can!"
The city's plan features a new skate bowl, to be built about 100 yards north of where the Bro Bowl is now.
Skateboarder Qkieunta Deverger said the city should leave the bowl alone.
"You can't replicate something original," Deverger said. "The Bro Bowl is legendary."
Dan Coleman, who favors relocating the bowl, said skateboarders would have a world-class recreational area if the city's revitalization project gets underway.
"All that becomes possible if they move the bowl 100 yards to the north," said Coleman, who left the rally early because he did not want to argue with the bowl's defenders. "I don't think the kids here understand that the weight of 125 years of history is in the balance."
Freed slaves settled the area north of downtown after the Civil War and it became known as The Scrub. Decades later, Central Avenue blossomed.
The stretch of road was decimated in the late 1960s and 70s by highway-widening projects. Central Park Village, a public housing complex next to the park, was torn down more than six years ago; a $445 million project is in the works to replace Central Park with a mixed-income residential and commercial community.
Perry Harvey Sr. Park was built about 40 years ago as a peace offering after Martin Chambers, a black teenager, was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer. Police said the 19-year-old was fleeing from a robbery; Chambers was unarmed.
Chambers' death sparked a riot along Central Avenue. Businesses and a famous jazz hall where a young Ray Charles Jr. played were looted and burned to the ground.
The bowl was added to the park in 1978 and is one of only three remaining surfer-style skating bowls in the country.
Hearns said the history of the skate bowl is miniscule compared to the history surrounding the park.
"They don't have an appreciation for the history of the land they're standing on," Hearns said of skate bowl advocates. "This is where black history should be celebrated in Tampa."