Pelham considering housing fire museum in Civic Complex main arena

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Pelham City Council will decide April 4 if it intends to transform the main ice arena at the Pelham Civic Complex into a firefighting museum as early as next year.

The announcement came during a special council work session March 28, during which Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock explained the potential project to the council and an audience of more than 50 spectators. The majority of those in the audience were affiliated with the city’s hockey and ice skating programs.

Currently, the county is considering bringing what would be Alabama’s only fire museum to either the Pelham Civic Complex or a facility at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum.

Initially, the museum would house the personal collection of former Birmingham firefighter Joseph “J.D.” King, which includes several pieces of firefighting equipment dating back more than 100 years.

As the museum expands, it could eventually include items from other collectors, Dudchock said.

During its April 4 meeting, the Pelham council will decide if it wants to move forward with the plan to house the museum in the Civic Complex’s 38,000-square-foot main ice arena. After Pelham votes on the matter, Dudchock will then recommend either the Pelham or Calera site to the Shelby County Commission during its April 11 meeting.

From 1998-2010, the Pelham Civic Complex has lost an average of $957,238 each year, said Pelham Mayor Don Murphy. Murphy said the museum will help to make Pelham a “destination city,” and help the city recoup its losses at the facility.

The museum would be a joint venture between Pelham and Shelby County, and the county would donate $500,000 to the project initially and $35,000 per year in operating assistance.

“The citizens of Pelham have to subsidize that facility,” Murphy said, noting he has received feedback recently from those who currently participate in Pelham’s hockey and ice staking leagues.

“I’m quite frankly fed up with folks giving me a hard time when they don’t live in Pelham and when they don’t subsidize what we’re losing,” Murphy said.

If Pelham does receive the fire museum, the secondary ice arena at the Civic Complex will remain functional, and will still house the city’s hockey and ice staking leagues, said Pelham Marketing Director Eva Shepherd.

However, Tony Harlow, a coach with the Pelham Youth Hockey League, said he took issue with Murphy’s comments, and said hockey and ice skating may bring in more revenue than the city reported.

“I am extremely disappointed in the comment from the mayor. I think it’s a great thing that we have people coming from other cities to skate here,” Harlow said. “That was a slap in the face.

“We saw numbers the other day that show we could be bringing in as much as a million dollars a year into that facility. There’s no guarantee that this museum would generate more income,” Harlow added. “And we have been told by the (University of) Alabama (club hockey) coach that closing the main ice would decimate their program.”

Council members Steve Powell and Karyl Rice also said they disagreed with Murphy.

“The challenge I have is totally abandoning an operation that was put there for a purpose,” Powell said of closing the main arena.

“What we have we need to be working to make it better, and put the fire museum elsewhere,” Rice said.