In the name of urban renewal, Tampa city officials have seen to the wholesale demolition of Central Avenue’s business district and “slum areas” in historic Ybor.
The newest victim of Tampa’s urban renewal program is the Bro Bowl, the first public skate park built in Florida and a staple of Tampa’s Perry Harvey Park since 1978.
City officials now want to demolish and redesign much of the 11-acre park into a “memorial that honors the history of the former Central Avenue business and nightclub district,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The debate over the demolition of the Bro Bowl has been an almost year-long back-and-forth between leaders of the Save the Bro Bowl campaign and Tampa City Council members.
In October, campaign members were able to get the Bro Bowl listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, making it the only skate park in the United States to be on such a list.
This new designation hasn’t stopped Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other city officials from moving forward with plans for demolition, however.
Though state historic preservation officials have urged City Hall to “seriously consider” leaving the Bro Bowl intact, the city wants to enlist USF to make a 3-D image of the bowl in order to build a replica on the other side of the park.
While Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times he sees this as a have your “cake and eat it, too” situation because the skaters who frequent the park can have a replica with new additions and Tampa officials can have their memorial, the real situation is that community members fighting against the city don’t want a replica that lacks the historic sanctity of the original Bro Bowl.
Buckhorn’s comment clearly shows a lack of understanding for what Save the Bro Bowl means and there is a fundamental flaw in the city’s notion that demolishing an integral part of Tampa’s history somehow promotes an appreciation for its past.
As Tampa officials continue to hide under the guise of historic appreciation, they systematically bulldoze over the history they claim is so integral to the city’s culture. They think as long as they put up memorial signs, they can continue to destroy historic shops, clubs and parks in the name of creating a new, more modern Tampa.
However, for many, Tampa’s rich culture and history go beyond anything a sign can provide.
Not to say Tampa doesn’t need to modernize like every other urban city, but there is a way to make a city more appealing to young professionals and urban-dwellers while still incorporating the history that attracted people to it in the first place.
One only needs to look across the water to St. Petersburg to find a city that has learned how historic preservation and urban renewal can go hand in hand.
With five historic districts throughout the city, including a 320-acre district in the heart of downtown, St. Petersburg continues to have a vibrant nightlife and modern developments alongside shops and bars that maintain historical integrity.
In terms of historic significance and economic growth, it seems St. Petersburg, not Tampa, is the one having its cake and eating it, too.
If Tampa officials genuinely care about the city’s history as much as they claim, they should keep the existing Bro Bowl intact and follow a plan of urban renewal that improves on history, not erases it.
Roberto Roldan is a junior majoring in mass communications.