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Perry Harvey Park opens in Tampa

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In virtually perfect weather conditions for Florida in early April – low 70’s, cloudy, with little humidity, the city of Tampa had a bigtime celebration on Sunday afternoon for the official unveiling of Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

Perry Harvey Sr. was the leader of the local longshoremen’s union for over 30 years, and worked to win higher wages for dockworkers. He also helped develop apartments to provide better living options for African-Americans in Tampa.

The impressive park is filled with various sculptures, tiles and other features honoring the significant men and women and events who were part of the area just north of downtown known as The Scrub. In the 1950’s, the area featured some of the music world’s biggest performers, like Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles who all performed on Central Avenue. It also features an “interactive fountain” with music and lights, and young children could be seen running through that area of the park as the adults celebrated in front of Performance Plaza, the stage where musicians performed and elected officials and others addressed the crowd.

The park also includes lots of green space, basketball courts and a re-creation of the historic Bro Bowl skate park.

“Growing up as a young child, living in West Tampa, I used to always cross the Fortune Street Bridge to come over here and try to sneak in the Lincoln Theatre,” recounted Tampa City Council Chairman Frank Reddick. “And always got chased out of there,” he added wistfully.

The creation of Interstate 275 in the late 1960’s literally divided the neighborhood.

There are markers along the History Walk pathway of the park that notes major dates, including one listed as “Urban Renewal 1960-1970’s.”

“The black-owned businesses on Central Avenue suffered unforeseen consequences resulting from the Civil Rights movement,” the marker reads. “The construction of I-275 and I-4 created a large interchange at the north end of the Central Avenue business district, permanently altering the important corridor.”

The area was moribund for decades with only the Central Park Village public housing project in its place.

That has changed in recent years with the Encore project, the public-private development between the Tampa Housing Authority, the city of Tampa and the Banc of America Community Development Corp. Last October saw the grand opening of the Reed, and the next building coming on line this year is the Tempo.

“Trio. Ella and Reed, all of them are full,” said THA director Jerome Ryans of the three housing buildings that have already been constructed. The fourth building, called The Tempo at Encore, will go up later this year.

“You really couldn’t ask for anything better,” marveled former Tampa City Councilman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Tom Scott, running against for the commission in 2016. “I mean, prime development, prime site, right downtown, and you’re commemorating the history of Perry Harvey Sr. and what he contributed for the black community and the community overall.”

Nobody seemed to be enjoying the day more than Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who greeted members of the community who were excited about the event. He said he couldn’t about the project’s opening, especially as a rich with history about Tampa’s black community. “This is literally our gift to them, but more importantly, it’s a gift to that next generation, who didn’t know them and who may not know their history and their struggles for what they went through. This park will tell this story.”

“This was the heart and soul of the African-American community,” said Buckhorn. “There were over 200 businesses here ,and Arthenia Joyner’s daddy and Kid Mason, and Perry Harvey and Watts Sanderson and the Moses White family, those were the big shoulders that this community stood on, and to be able to honor them in memoriam, it doesn’t’ get any better than that.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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