Mayor Buckhorn opens new Perry Harvey Sr. Park

- Park planner Brad Suder knew he needed to think outside the box when planning Tampa's new Perry Harvey, Sr. Park. History lessons on bronze plaques simply would not fully tell the story of the historic neighborhood that once flourished just north of downtown.

"As a landscape artist, this is the richest soil I've ever worked with," Suder said Sunday as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn officially opened the new park after more than a decade of planning.

The park is named for Perry Harvey, Sr., after a prominent black leader who fought for better wages, preached family values and emphasized early education for African American children. Harvey is memorialized in a statue at the center of the park, but Suder brought together various artists and designers to make this a history walk like none other.

A kaleidoscope of media, including whimsical statues that tower at the park's front entrance to music from the jazz and blues era, are used to help tell the story of what was once the heart and soul of Tampa's African American community. Live tiles reveal glimpses of the past: photos from the 1860's, when the neighborhood was first established by freed slaves, melt into sepia-toned stills featuring a bustling neighborhood and black owned and operated businesses.

"We did do things differently. Generally in a city project we have a one-percent allocation to show public art of some sort. We said one-percent is not enough for this park. We have so much more to say," explained Suder. "We found the perfect artists to design this history walk so it's not a reading lesson."

Central Avenue is recreated with an undulating framed pathway featuring street maps and bios of notable business owners. For decades, this now by-gone street formed the epicenter of African American life in Tampa, home to various businesses and night clubs.  

"This is a history that for decades has gone untold and that's unfortunate," said Buckhorn. "But now these young people will know what their fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers did to help build this amazing place."

More than 40 years have passed since the city of Tampa shuttered Central Avenue's last iconic business, using eminent domain. State Senator Arthenia Joyner remembers her father's Joyner's Cotton Club, where blues and jazz legends like Etta Fitzgerald took the stage on the Chitin Circuit and Ray Charles went from unknown to infamous.

"Society was 100 percent segregated when I was a kid so Central Avenue was the epicenter of the black world in this community. It was everything," said Joyner.

The new park also includes copious amounts of recreation space, including basketball courts, a re-creation of the historic Bro Bowl skate park and a splash pad where fountains dance in time to music celebrating the Central Avenue's nightlife.

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