Pelham lands professional hockey team deal

PELHAM – A professional hockey team is coming to Pelham.

At a Pelham City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 20, the council entered into a lease agreement with Birmingham Hockey Club LLC for use of the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena for the operation and games of a professional hockey team, pending final approval of the lease by the city’s attorney.

City council members called the move “a logical next step” for the city, which has experienced significant growth in its youth and adult hockey leagues over the past few years. Alabama and UAB hockey clubs also play all of their home games at the arena.

City Council President Rick Hayes said the city has been working toward getting a professional hockey team for about two years.

Art Clarkson, former owner of minor professional hockey team the Birmingham Bulls, is at the helm of the lease deal. Clarkson, who attended the Feb. 20 council meeting, is looking to resurrect the Birmingham Bulls organization.

When the Birmingham Bulls were playing at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, Clarkson said games were drawing 7,000-10,000 people per game night.

Clarkson said the SPHL team in Huntsville had an average attendance of 4,200 people per game during the 2015-2016 season. Clarkson said he is confident his team can have the same kind of success in Pelham, which would result in a huge economic impact for the city.

Clarkson said he plans to build the team from scratch and will have with 28 game dates to start with.

Clarkson has submitted an application to be a part of the Southern Professional Hockey League, which has a team in Huntsville, as well as teams in surrounding states such as Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee.

“We will make this successful,” Clarkson said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

But in order to be successful, Clarkson said some upgrades will need to be made to the Ice Arena. Pelham Civic Complex facilities manager Danny Tate agreed that the facility has been in need of upgrades for some time now.

Hayes presented ideas about expanding the seating within the main arena and possibly incorporating corporate boxes. With the main arena having a seating capacity of about 3,000 people, Hayes said about 800 additional seats are needed.

“The professional hockey team is not the only reason for needing to add more seats,” Mayor Gary Waters said. “With the annual tree lighting and graduation we don’t have enough seats. With more seating we won’t have to limit the number of people students can invite to graduation as strictly.”

In addition to adding more seating, the some upgrades would need to be made to the interior of the building also. With the endeavor still being in its early stages, the council doesn’t know how much the upgrades might cost.

“This is a great addition to our facility,” said Erik Hudson, Pelham Civic Complex hockey director. “With the addition of a pro hockey team every kid that plays is going to want to keep playing and become a Birmingham Bull. Every kids who joins the league will think, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”