Bro Bowl controversy brings in USF for compromise

The Bro Bowl, an old-school style skate park, could be demolished and reconstructed in the northern end of Perry Harvey Park with the help of USF as soon as the end of summer. ORACLE PHOTO/WESLEY HIGGINS

Built in 1978, the Bro Bowl was the first public skate park in Florida during an era often considered the golden age of skateboarding, when tricks like the Ollie took the sport to new heights in American culture.

“I’ve watched everything around the bowl change in 30 years, but it’s a static element in a dynamic environment,” Shannon Bruffett, director of Tampa’s Skateboarding Heritage Foundation, said. “You can watch the skyline of Tampa be ever changing, but the bowl withstands.”

Since its creation, the Bro Bowl has been featured in skateboarding videos, video games and has had its own documentary.  It remains the last of three remaining U.S. skate parks built in the 1970s and the only one to keep its original form.

But soon, skaters could be riding the Bro Bowl for the last time.

For the last eight years, controversy has surrounded the 36-year-old famous skate park. It stands in the way of a $30 million federal grant to renovate the neighborhood and honor its vibrant cultural past. 

In the latest talks of demolishing the landmark, the City of Tampa is considering enlisting the help of USF to recreate it.

If finalized, USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) would use lasers to scan the bowl and generate a 3-D blueprint for architects to build an exact replica. 

The accuracy would be “unbelievable,” said Michael Raphael, Direct Dimensions CEO and member of USF’s AIST advisory board.

“It would be the shape of that skate park — all the contours, all the imperfections,” he said. “In color, you would see all the skid marks and any markings that were on the concrete.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this plan would be part of the $6.5 million renovations at Perry Harvey Sr. Park and would preserve the integrity of the Bro Bowl. 

“Everyone can have their cake and eat it, too,” Buckhorn said in response to historic preservation officials, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times.

But many in the local skating community, such as Bruffett, disagree.

“When you go there, you can see the history in the cracks.  We wouldn’t replicate the Columbia or the Crest building,” he said. “There is something the real article has and the replica never would — it has a soul.”

The debate over the Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Sr. Park is only a part of the $30 million federal grant for Encore Tampa that honors the area’s black and cultural heritage. 

The urban renewal project is aimed to transform the Central Avenue area with new housing, a museum, a middle school and a musical amphitheater. Under the plans for the renewal project, the Bro Bowl is in the way of an outdoor exhibit featuring the history of Tampa’s black community.

Last year, the Bro Bowl was the first skate park listed by the National Register of Historic Places. The distinction requires officials seek public opinion when considering the impact of redeveloping historical properties. 

“All these people from local to state to national level all agree the Bro Bowl has cultural significance to our country and our city,” Bruffett said. “But the local government keeps on fighting that.”

In his 2014 State of the City speech, Buckhorn said the historical significance of the skate park “pales in comparison” to the history of the black community.

Since October, a series of public meetings in City Hall have discussed four options: destroying the bowl after documenting its significance, building walls around the existing bowl to buffer it from the rest of the park, cutting up the bowl and moving the chunks to the new location in the northern end of the park or scanning it to recreate it.

While nothing is set in stone, Raphael said the 3-D scanning solution would be economical and practical. The FARO Laser Scanner, no bigger than a desktop computer, would scan the park in minutes. 

Though preferring the Bro Bowl to stay the way it is, Bruffett said this seems to be the likely compromise. 

However, if the skate park stays, the atmosphere may change, according to Tampa officials. 

While skaters traditionally go to the Bro Bowl for its relaxed environment and laid-back rules, Buckhorn said if the park were to remain intact park employees would closely monitor skaters to make sure they carried identification and wore helmets.

“It’s like a brotherhood, it’s like a family,” Bruffett said. “There’s a lot of acceptance and never a whole lot of judgment. No one is worried about what trick you’re doing or what shoes you’re wearing … it’s about camaraderie.”

While the Bro Bowl’s future is still unclear, the city wants to end the debate before fall, as not a dime of the $30 million can be spent until the issue is settled.