A visually and cartographically explicit narrative blog about Tampa's built history and development.
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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Losing hope

 Tampa will be a shining city on the sea with no visible history if our city leaders have anything to say about it.  It has been over two years since I have posted to this blog and over those two years I have seen a sharp increase in demolition throughout the city's urban core.  This trend is now branching out into the rest of the city. Let me tick off a few items.  After a prolonged fight that made me feel hopeful about the future of preservation in this city, we only have a few weeks until the Bro Bowl will be demolished.  Jeff Vinik's vision for the development of the South Downtown waterfront is moving forward at full speed.  This development led to the quiet and speedy demolition of the last remaining single family houses in downtown Tampa.  I will write about these houses more in a future post.  As developers tear down houses, sales skyrocket.  I fear, no I know, we are staring at another housing bubble in this market.  A friend of mine has meticulously started documenting all of the tear downs in the South Tampa area, where the tear down development bug has reached a fever pitch.  Perfectly good homes are being bought by developers with deep pockets days after listing or with no listing at all, only to be torn down within days for spec houses with sales prices almost three times that of the previous sales price.  It only costs $100 for a demolition permit and even if the house is over 50 years old the historic preservation permitting process is not slowing down developers.  And a new threat to our historic urban core, its historic building,s and affordable housing, has emerged in the form of FDOT's Tampa Express Lane's project.  The downtown portion of the project is estimated at over $1.8 BILLION, yes BILLION!  This is over half of the entire projected $3.3 Billion cost of the countywide express lane project.  So much to discuss, friends.  I'm back on the blogging scene!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Bro Bowl is a preservation first in Tampa!

After almost 3 hours of passionate pleas and speeches from both sides of the Bro Bowl preservation battle, the City of Tampa's Historic Preservation Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the Bro Bowl for historic status!  Shannon Bruffett, the man who submitted the historic preservation application for the bowl made a powerful and fact heavy plea for the bowl that I believe resonated heavily with the commission.  You could see it in their faces that the commission was truly dealing with something unique here.  But something truly significant has been lost in the reporting of this story.  If the Bro Bowl receives historic designation it would be the first such structure in Tampa to do so before it reaches the 50 year threshold. This could open up a whole new dialog for the preservation of buildings and structures from the recent past.

Sign for the City's Parks "Department" office in Lowry Park (photo provided by Mr. Jake Tremper
After the end of the public comment portion there was almost dead silence as the commissioners looked at each other wondering what to do next.  Members of the commission openly discussed how he was conflicted with the task that was put before him.  Opposition came from both the City, the Tampa Housing Authority, the local skating community and historian Fred Hearns.  I was wondering why the individuals who fought so hard just to get a skating into the plans for the redeveloped Perry Harvey park were opposed to historic status for the bowl.  Is it because they are under the impression that if the bowl stays, then their newly designed skate park will be ripped from the plans?  Fred Hearns, who was a member of the original design committee, made it clear that if the Bro Bowl is designated historic then it is back to the drawing board to replan the park.  A representative from the City Parks Department showed plans from FDOT for a future widening of Orange Avenue that would cut into the bro bowl.  But a representative from FDOT was later called up and she explained that those plans were 15 years old and that there hasn't been any funding for the widening of Orange Ave and these changes are not slated for the future.  Shannon Bruffett and the other supporters of the historic designation made an impassioned case showing that the Bro Bowl was one of 3 bowls from the 1970s left in existence, with the Bro Bowl being the only one unaltered.  Ultimately the facts spoke for themselves, and there was no good reason why the Bro Bowl couldn't be recommended for historic status.  Now onto the next stage!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's too late to bury the bowl

In St. Petersburg the battle over the Pier continues to boil, with the bumper stickers, yard signs and social media pages battling for the hearts and minds of the city and its politicians.  Over here, on the other side of the bay, its been years since we have seen any preservation fights as big or controversial as the Pier / Lens fight.  The fight to preserve the Tampa Gas Company tower in 1993 was one of Tampa's largest and bitterest preservation fights.  2006 was also a rather big year with citizens waging a similar battle to get the City Council to vote against demolition of the Maas Brothers building.  That same year marked start of a battle over a city park, more precisely a skate park.  Today the fight over the Perry Harvey, Sr. Park "skate park", more affectionately known as the Bro Bowl has been resurrected. 

Plans to redevelop Perry Harvey Park, where the bowl resides, have set on the shelf for almost 6 years until the City finally received the funding last year to go ahead with the redevelopment.  Back in 2005 / 2006 when the redevelopment of the former Central Park Village and the adjacent Perry Harvey Park first started taking shape, there were no plans for the skate bowl or a skate park.  Local skateboarders came out to park planning meetings in droves hoping to save the Bro Bowl and eventually winning a bigger and more modern park at the far Northern corner of the park, out of sight.  Tomorrow the Bro Bowl gets one last chance for life.  A group called the "Skateboarding Heritage Foundation", out of Delray Beach, FL, has put forth a request to get the Bro Bowl on the National Historic Register.  While not necessarily a saving grace, it is a necessary to step to achieving local landmark status which would preserve the bowl.

The Bro Bowl's only issue is age and desire.  Built in 1978, the bowl is only 34 years old (one year older than me).  It's 16 years shy of the National Historic Registers eligibility of 50 years old.  However, a structure can overcome this by conveying extraordinary historical significance. The bowl is one of the first original purpose built skate bowls in the country.  I posted a documentary that was made about the Bro Bowl a few years ago (http://tampaniatampa.blogspot.com/2011/11/bro-bowl-doc.html) it gives a pretty good overview of the history of the bowl.  While over a thousand people have signed the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation's petition on Change.org, https://www.change.org/organizations/skateboardingheritage.  Many others are happy to see the Bro Bowl die.  Rob Meronek of the Skatepark of Tampa posted this entry on the Skatepark's website today stating his desires, along with some pictures of the design of the new skatepark to built on the Northern end of the site: http://skateparkoftampa.com/spot/a.aspx?ID=1948.  I doubt members of the original park advisory are happy about this either.  The Pam Iorio appointed committee, which is made up of descendants and family members of the owners of businesses from the historic Central Avenue black business district, gave their opinion on the matter years ago.  I agree that this historic and tragically demolished district should get the full recognition it deserves.

The former Tampa Gas Company building, demolished amid controversy in 1993.
However, I cannot see any reason for the City to completely erase the one bright spot out of the tragic urban renewal program of the 1960s.  If it was a choice between the Bro Bowl and the new skate park, then I could see a reason to let the Bro Bowl go.  But, looking at some of the few published plans for the park redevelopment online (see picture at top), it seems to me that once the bowl is demolished the area will just become a plot of grass and bushes.  I know I'm coming to the fight pretty late in the game here, call it me a Monday morning (or late night) quarterback if you will.  But what is the harm of keeping the bowl?  Are we destined to keep falling into the same preservation trap, allowing something to be destroyed only to have nothing of value put back in its place.  The sites of the Tampa Gas Company building and Maas Brothers sat vacant for years after demolition.  The Maas Brothers site eventually became a parking lot. It would seem like a slap in the face for the city to demolish the Bro Bowl, claiming it as an eyesore that doesn't fit the historic context of the redeveloped park.  Only to have them sod over the site and erect a plaque.  Why waste more of our money?  Let the Bro Bowl stay.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How does Tampa stack in U.S. parking stats?

A recent infographic has been circulating the interwebs that clearly compares parking requirements across major US cities, http://graphingparking.wordpress.com/.  Tampa is unfortunately one of the few cities on the list to boast a minimum number of required spaces for offices built within the central business district.  No wonder our downtown is awash with surface parking lots.  It is nice to see all four of the major Florida metros represented for a intra-state comparison.  Tampa is the worst of the four in office vs. parking space, third in dining vs. parking, and shown as first in residential vs. parking.  However the residential space graphic makes it appear as though Miami has a flat across the board requirement for residential parking spaces, while Tampa sets different standards for spaces allotted based on the number of bedrooms.


The City of Tampa boasts on its website that it is responsible for "11,372 off-street spaces and 2,097 on-street spaces" (numbers vary depending on which part of the city website you land on).  Searching through the City's code (linked to through the graphing parking website) I see that the only entity not beholden to parking requirements are restaurants located within Downtown's central core.  How generous our City fathers are.  If our city is densify and become a more pedestrian friendly place it is time that we really start to examine our parking requirements and make some changes to reflect our ideals.

Looking from the top of one parking garage to another in downtown Tampa.  A rare scene.

Now, if someone could devote the time to creating a similar infographic that shows the proportion of surface parking to vertical parking in the city, that would be much appreciated.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Purity Springs

Literally a stones throw from Tampa's most ubiquitous spring, Sulphur Springs, is little Purity Springs. Unheralded, it sits in between a housing development and North River Shore Drive, the head is about 50 or 60 yards from the river.   The Spring pool is small, only about 7 or 8 yards across and about 3 feet deep, but its waters are still a clear, deep aquamarine blue.  The edge of the spring is lined with what appear to be limestone border rocks.  Its flow is directed to the river through a channel under the road.  It is perhaps one of the most accessible springs in the city.  On a warm afternoon you will undoubtedly see a few neighborhood children splashing around in its fairly clear waters, when it isn't occupied by ducks, chickens or other birds.
View North from River Shore Drive, the water flows right under me and the road down to the River.
The decline in quality of Florida's springs has become increasingly apparent over the past couple of years.  Many of the states wonders have either stopped flowing or have had their clear blue waters clouded by polluted run-off, see the Tampa Bay Times recent look at our vanishing springs.  Springs were the states first tourist attractions.  The neighborhood of Sulphur Springs, though now in decline, with its tower, gazebo and large dog track would not exist if it weren't for Sulphur Springs.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Help InVision Hillsborough and Nebraska Avenues

The InVision Tampa ideas page is now taking up suggestions for possible changes and tweeks to the Nebraska and Hillsborough Avenue corridors as the second phase of the InVision Tampa Study.  I've already added one idea to the Hillsborough Avenue ideas page.

Over two years ago now (wow time flies!) I did a post on the old Sears department store building at Hillsborough and 22nd Street, now the home of Hi-Tech Erwin Technical School.  The Sears building is just one of many mid-century modern commercial / retail buildings along Hillsborough Avenue, which was becoming a major shopping and commercial corridor in the 1950s and 1960s.  My idea is that these gems should be revitalized and highlighted to help promote a cleanup and redevelopment of the corridor.   The North Biscayne Boulevard in Miami looked similar to Hillsborough Avenue, full of run down mid-century travel motels and shopping strips.  But at the beginning of the century, local historians and citizens began to push for a revitilization of the blighted area, and the Biscayne Boulevard Historic District was born.  Many of the seedy rundown motor lodges were bought and refurbished to highlight their mid-century style, becoming boutique hotels.  And many of the run down and vacant strip centers now host new tenants, many catering to the history of the area.  I'm not saying Hillsborough Avenue should follow the same model, but I think Tampa can take a few pointers from the Biscayne Boulevard revival to help reshape the Hillsborough, Nebraska and Florida corridors.

Please visit my Hillsborough Avenue idea page and second the idea if you like it.  Or you can create an account for the InVision ideas site and post your own suggestions.  If you don't speak up, your ideas will never be heard.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The City of Tampa's "Out of the Archives"

I just have to highlight the new "Out of the Archives" show created by the City of Tampa's Archives  Department.  It's hosted and produced by Tampania's good friend Jennifer Dietz, the City of Tampa's Archives and Records Manager.  Jen helped facilitate a lot of the hard research done for this blog in her former post as Librarian at the Tampa Bay History Center's research library.  In the innaugural episode of "Out of the Archives", Jen highlights a 16mm, Tampa Chamber of Commerce produced film from the 1950's entitled "Flower of Tampa".  The film highlights the City's world renowned Cigar industry at a time when cigar smoking was on the decline due to the prevelance of the cheaper, machine-made cigarette.  The film also highlights the beauty of Tampa and the rich cultural assets of the area.  The main subject of the film is Rick, the prodigal nephew of long time Tampa cigar maker, Uncle Manuel.  Young Ricky is played by Tampa actor Joe Russo, whom Jen gets to interview for her show, looking good Joe!

The coolest thing about the "Out of the Archives" video is that it is a film that highlights a film which itself is highlighting another earlier film.  At the beginning of the movie Uncle Manuel lights up a cigar for young Ricky and then shows him a film entitled "From leaf to lip" about tobacco harvesting in Cuba.  And surprise, surprise, one of the stars of this documentary is none other than Uncle Manuel himself. 

I look forward to seeing what else comes out of the archives in future installments and hope you will too.  Great job, Jen!