Tampa should give Perry Harvey Park some love

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

Perry Harvey Sr. Park was created not only to honor Tampa’s rich Black heritage and one of its most formidable African American leaders. It was also envisioned as a magnet for redeveloping the east side of downtown and for bridging the city center with historic Ybor City. That transformation is underway, but many complain the park is underperforming its potential, thanks in part to lagging maintenance, poor programming and a diminished profile at City Hall.

The area, as the Tampa Bay Times reportedly recently, was once called the Scrub, where freed slaves settled in the 1860s, later becoming part of the bustling Central Avenue Black business and entertainment district. Then came the construction of the interstate and urban decline; racial unrest and desegregation also contributed to the demise of Black-owned businesses in the area.

The city launched a remake in 2015, spending eight months and nearly $7 million to create what then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn called “a living, breathing history lesson.” It featured new basketball courts, more green space, outdoor art, a skate park and a sidewalk that doubled as a timeline of the area’s history. The vibrancy returned and so did expectations for more.

But some now complain the park, which stretches across a dozen city blocks, doesn’t seem to get the same maintenance and consideration for events as other downtown venues. A recent tour of the park showed several faded letters scrawled by vandals on artwork; in another part, one of the tiles that help depict a pictorial history had been vandalized and broken, and missing for months. “It’s like having a tooth missing; it really stands out,” said Fred Hearns, a retired city community affairs director, whose family dates here to 1900. “We need some love at Perry Harvey Park.”

That’s certainly not too much to ask.

Tampa Parks and Recreation Director Sherisha Hills said in an emailed response to the Times that Perry Harvey Park “has a dedicated maintenance staff and receives the same maintenance as every other downtown park.” She added the city appreciates hearing concerns, which it “will evaluate and address as appropriate.”

Just because the park has a maintenance schedule doesn’t mean that schedule works. It seems less condescending and more understanding is in order here. Newly elected Tampa City Council member Gwen Henderson, the board’s only Black member, is looking to create a committee “to reimagine Perry Harvey Park.” That’s the right approach; reassessing the park’s maintenance and programming could help enliven the space, add to the area’s appeal and further the park’s mission as a social and economic catalyst.

Tampa needs to realize that its caretaking of Perry Harvey Park reflects the city’s regard for the park’s namesake. And officials need to appreciate that Tampa’s African American community is already frustrated. The impasse over restoring the segregation-era Jackson Rooming House and the Hillsborough County School Board’s recent closure of mostly Black Just Elementary School have dealt double blows to African American residents. There’s no need for Perry Harvey Park to become another irritant.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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