The Bro Bowl: Historic for Us, But a Small Piece of Something Bigger

Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 by Rob

By Lep Stewart

On June 11, 2013 I attended a meeting at Tampa City Hall concerning historic preservation. I remember seeing a petition on the internet to "Save the Bro Bowl" and I think any of us (and many did) would sign a petition to save something that we all have skated from being demolished. The petition that was signed by many, lead people to believe that the government was viciously tearing down a skateboarding landmark with no alternative plan, this wasn't really the case.

It turns out that the picture is considerably larger than that and as a new Tampa resident I was enthralled by the story that unfolded before me today. Yes, the Bro Bowl has been a destination for many skaters over these many decades, but it is only a small part of a bigger story. The Bro Bowl sits in Northeast Downtown Tampa, a historic area that encompassed the African American community for some 150 years. (5 times longer than the Bro Bowl has existed). I found this link that talks specifically about the area where the Bro Bowl is currently located here. The historical significance of Central Avenue is so rich from The Cotton Club to the Central and Lincoln Theatre. This area was where Ella Fitzgerald began the conversion of a children's nursery rhyme into her breakthrough hit in 1938, "A tisket, a tasket". Legend has it that the 1960s hit "The Twist" was written based on dancing observed in this area. I found this link that furthers this legend. Many also know that Ray Charles spent some of his teenage years trying to make a living in Tampa as a performer before moving on.

So years ago when The Encore Development was envisioned as a way to memorialize this rich historic community, the City of Tampa could do nothing but proudly embrace it. As the design for the rejuvenation of this historic community was forming, the question of our little speck in time concrete monument came up. The original reaction (so it is told) was destroy the bowl, but cooler heads prevailed. After intense discussion, it was agreed that a bigger and better skatepark that pays homage to the Bro Bowl's history could be built within the Encore Development area. Many years of planning repositioned our skatepark while providing a public park, amphitheater and gathering area where the bowl currently sits. Much thought was put into the new park including a modern version of the snakerun that is the Bro Bowl, banks that have since been removed, (theater areas in the park) that pay homage to the theaters from Central Avenue history, picnic areas and a plan for a safer better place for skaters to gather a stone's throw away from the current park. All was carefully thought out and embraced by the community that is developing this section and the majority of us in the skateboarding community that believe in progress.

I like to believe that every intention is good, I believe that the party that opposes the new park thought they were doing the right thing in preserving a skate spot that we all revere. But saying this park has significant historic value vs preservation of a community that is 5 times as old is really insulting. But what I saw today was that this petition was formed without malicious intent. These people really thought they were "saving the Bro Bowl" when in fact, they altered the plans that a more established community had been working on for years. I really like to believe that if the opposition realized that this petition affected a much larger community and put a wrench in planning for something bigger for a community considerably bigger than the skateboard community, we would be reading about something else today. In fact it was said numerous times "we are not saying don't build the new park, just keep the old one". The whole point of the new park was to allow Encore to place the proper recreational area in the place where the current Bro Bowl is (a location that has chronicled historic value. The surrounding community embraced our culture and let us build something better. In the end when the highway is expanded (and it will one day)and we didn't take advantage of the gift that Encore gave us and the current bowl is demolished (historic or not) we will have all lost.

I would also like to believe that the 1900 people that signed the commission did it believing that the Bro Bowl was being demolished and didn't know something bigger and better was being developed. I learned a lot today, I learned that misinformation is really powerful (more than half the people in the video presented that day would support building a better Bro Bowl), that Tampa has more history than Ybor (which is all I really knew all these years visiting for contests)and most importantly Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald once hung out not far from where I lay my head every night. Pretty Damn Cool.

All the Best,
Lep Stewart
General Manager
Skatepark of Tampa

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