If dirt could talk, the area where Central Avenue stood would have a lot to say. This place has been through several reincarnations and tonight’s community conversation at 6:30, at Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church focuses on its next.
For decades, this tucked away area housed “The Scrub”, a poor, black, residential area where a 1944 survey by the National Urban League identified dreadful living conditions, including a dearth of indoor plumbing. The heart of this neighborhood was Central Avenue, where segregation focused black professionals and businesses, ranging from pharmacists, attorneys and physicians to shops, restaurants and clubs.
In this place in 1967, the tragic death of Martin Chambers at the hands of a police officer led to riots. City leaders settled on a strategy of “urban removal” which in hindsight was cynically created to obilterate the culture and center which Central Avenue represented to the black community.
The placement of the intersection of I-4 and I-275 effectively erased this main street, burying it under tons of cement. The construction of Perry Harvey Park with its skate park was a modest nod to the recreational needs of a community now landlocked by the monolithic walls of the highway.
Ironically, the Bro Bowl, the skatepark built there was one of the first locations in Tampa where organic intergration took place, as black and white kids skated there together. As Florida’s first publically constructed ride-at-your-own-risk skateboard facility, the Bro Bowl, with its long, elegantly curving swirls was a trend-setter. It is is known internationally from its inclusion in a Tony Hawk Pro Skater Video Game and has been featured in skaters’ magazines, books, documentaries and videos.
Now, after decades of neglect, the larger area is being reworked. Public housing has been torn down and is being replaced with market-rate multi-family midrise apartments, the Encore development. In a worthy attempt to belatedly respect the cultural decimation which removed Central Avenue, there will be the creation of a “History Walk” adjacent to Perry Harvey Sr. Park.
The City’s original plans developed for this public gathering area removed the Bro Bowl, without recognizing its historic significance and subsequent protection. The Federal Government’s 106 process demands that the property be protected. The City’s plans could be altered modestly to allow both the park and the Bro Bowl to peacefully co-exist.In fact, it would be significantly less expensive for this option than the Bro Bowl’s removal and the construction of a new facility.
Isn’t it time for our community to come together with a healthy respect for all the layers of our history and an eye toward a better future? Tampa is evolving in a more inclusive way and the ability for us to move ahead as a both/and rather than an either/or attitude would be a solid indication of our progress.
Tonight's meeting takes place 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the Oscar Johnson Jr. building, 1207 N. Jefferson St., Tampa.