Major development announced for Exit 242 in Pelham

PELHAM – Pelham has been selected as the future site of a groundbreaking public attraction designed to make the world a safer place.

City Manager Gretchen DiFante said the attraction will be located on the 286-acre property that sits on the southwest corner of exit 242, across from the Colonial Pipeline tank farm on Shelby County 52.

City Council President Rick Hayes said the exit 242 corridor will undergo a transformation.

The city purchased a portion of the property for $3 million in October 2017. The owner of the property donated the other 126.50 acres of the land to the city.

The National Center for Fire and Life Safety (NCFLS) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced Wednesday, April 18, that the NFPA HEROES Experience, the first public fire and life safety education attraction of its kind, will be located on the property. The project, which is expected to be immersive, educational and entertaining, will take up 25 acres.

“For those emergency professionals who seek to reduce the loss of life and injuries due to fire and other hazards, this is a watershed moment,” said Russell A. Jackson, Chief Executive Officer of NCFLS. “This firefighter-themed attraction will be an incredible teaching tool to the public. One hundred percent education and 100 percent showmanship, this is a collaboration between local, state, and national organizations, emergency services professionals, and researchers–many recognized as the world’s leading authorities in fire and life safety.”

As a former fire chief, Mayor Gary Waters said he has mixed feelings about the development.

“Of course, I’m ecstatic about the economic prospects and tourism this project will bring, but I’m also saddened a bit,” he said. “A part of the criteria for this project was that it be located in the southeastern part of the United States because this region has the highest fire mortality rate when compared to any other region in the country. Hopefully this will change that statistic.

“Knowing that our city will make a direct impact on public life safety education nationwide is quite auspicious. We are proud to partner with the NFPA and the NCFLS, and we believe the City of Pelham will continue to grow and flourish with the addition of this project.”

DiFante said the city plans to develop the area to create a gathering place for the city, with the NFPA HEROES Experience as the flagship attraction. The city hopes to includes retail and a housing component to the area.

“It’s important to make sure it’s a community gathering place,” DiFante said. “There’s a creek there and the area is so beautiful, so we can use that for recreation.”

Hayes said the opportunity to acquire the 286-acre site and to land this development came together almost simultaneously.

“A lot of things just came together at once,” he said. “It came together perfectly. We are in the process of creating a master plan for the city and that property.”

The new attraction, which will be seen from I-65, will combine public education and state-of- the-art technology to drive home critical lessons in safety for both young and old alike. Hayes said the building, which is designed to look like a fire engine, and the concept of the attraction will be iconic.

“NFPA HEROES Experience will be a more than 100,000 square-foot public nonprofit attraction serving a wide range of audiences ranging from K-12 school groups and families, to visitors and tourists of all generations. Visitors will be immersed in authentic stories, exhibits and experiences that dramatize the importance of preventing fire and life safety measures,” said Jackson. “Finalizing – site selection for the NFPA HEROES Experience was key before we could finalize overall design. More details about the Experience will be revealed at our groundbreaking ceremony forecasted for later in 2019.”

According to Jackson, the concept and design of the attraction has been in the works for the past three years. With major sponsors now emerging for this attraction, a nationwide capital campaign will soon get underway. Once constructed, the Experience will employ more than 50 employees.

“The NFPA HEROES Experience will be funded through a traditional nonprofit capital campaign engaging both private and public-sector partners,” said Jackson. “We’re honored to have the NFPA as our title naming sponsor for the attraction and to have their CEO, Jim Pauley, serving as chairman of the national campaign.”

Jackson said the NFPA HEROES Experience will be more than just a destination for people of all ages to come learn and enjoy. Work will be done behind the scenes researching and testing new safety and prevention education approaches. What is learned here will be disseminated to a worldwide audience.

“Shelby County is privileged to have the opportunity to host this unique educational facility focused on fire and life safety,” Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock said. “The NFPA HEROES Experience will add to our commitment of providing visitors with educational and interactive attractions.”

Joining Jackson and the NCFLS board of directors for the announcement was Jim Pauley, CEO, and Lorraine Carli, Vice President of Outreach and Advocacy, of the National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA is a global nonprofit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. In 2016, NFPA reports that America’s fire service responded to 35,320,000 fire, medical and other types of emergency calls.