Officials wanted to turn city ice rink into firefighter museum

By Vladislav Luchianov
Photo: Birmingham News

The future of the Pelham Civic Complex’s ice rink (Pelham, Alabama) is at the center of a discussion between Pelham city officials and people who use and enjoy the ice rink for figure skating and hockey games.

The Mayor of Pelham, Don Murphy wanted to close down one of two rinks at the Pelham Civic Complex. Mayor wanted to turn the main rink into a Fire Museum. Taking this facility down to one rink would decimate figure skaters as well as hockey players. One rink will not be enough to handle the needs of all the activities that go on at this rink. These rinks are used for competitive skaters, public skate sessions, hockey lessons, recreational hockey teams, travel hockey teams, skating birthday parties, and Alabama hockey team. Going to one rink will not allow for future figure skating competitions to be held at the Pelham Civic Complex along with many other events.

As of Monday, April 4, the Mayor of Pelham has removed his proposal to use the Main Rink for a Fire Museum. The Fire Museum has since been awarded to Calera, a neighboring city. The “grass roots” demand to Save Our Ice (through petitions, emails, phone calls, and media coverage) was heard loud and clear by City Government officials. The Mayor of Pelham is currently reaching out to the skating community and working to create a Board to oversee the management of the rink.

I decided to talk about this situation with Julie McDougal, the parent of a child who skates in Pelham with the Birmingham Figure Skating Club.

Could you describe this problem in general?

Julie McDougal: The mayor of the City of Pelham states that the Pelham Civic Complex is losing too much money. The complex currently houses two ice rinks (a main rink and a practice rink), conference/banquet facilities, and city offices. In looking for a way to lose less money, the mayor desired to place a bid with the Shelby County Commission to house a collection of fire memorabilia donated to the county.

The city of Calera also desired to place a bid. The city of Calera intends to build the fire museum on a vacant piece of property adjacent to an existing railroad museum. The mayor of Pelham intended to modify the main rink to house the fire museum. This would take the facilities down to one practice rink (with no permanent seating) to be shared by the Pelham Skate School, the Birmingham Figure Skating Club, The University of Alabama Ice Hockey Team (The Frozen Tide), various youth and adult hockey leagues/programs, and public skate session participants. Many of these activities cannot take place concurrently, as it would pose a safety hazard. Ice time, which is already in short supply, will be significantly limited for all.

In addition, the BFSC will no longer be able to host Regional or Sectional figure skating competitions and showcase events. Currently, there are only two double rink facilities in the state (in Birmingham and Huntsville) capable of hosting a regional competition. Mississippi has no facilities. Skaters must currently drive 1 1/2 – 2 hours to find alternative practice sites.

Besides skate-related activities, the main rink can also accommodate exhibitions, trade shows, various sports competitions/tournaments, graduation ceremonies, and the like. Although the complex owns a floor covering that would allow the accommodation of non ice-related events without taking down the ice, it is unused and the ice is up for less than six months of the year, causing unnecessary loss of revenue.

Many people in the surrounding communities don’t know the facilities exist, offering a safe, indoor, year-round activity the entire family can enjoy. There are many other examples of sub-optimal management and marketing, causing an unnecessary loss of revenue and missed opportunity for profitability. The ideal solution is to create a board (made up of skating, hockey, private, and public representatives) to oversee the marketing and management of the facilities optimally and consistently from year to year.

How many students skate there?

Julie McDougal: Approximately 500 skate school, figure skating, and hockey participants use the rinks. This figure does not include public session participants.

Do you have any idea how to decide this issue?

Julie McDougal: Currently we are working to raise awareness of the issue with the city council members, the local communities, and the media. We have started a petition to save the main rink. We have over 2500 people that have signed our petition from all over the country.

We are gathering and distributing accurate facts and figures about the profitability of similar fire museums, the potential loss of revenue if the main rink is closed to skating, and the potential impact of marketing and management improvements. We are working to advocate for a board-controlled facility and a proven, experienced management/marketing approach.

Maybe one of the good decisions could be creating something like a skating summer camp and inviting more junior or senior skaters for their preparation so the city would have additional finances?

Julie McDougal: We do host a skating summer camp, which could certainly be maximized but which would require a city commitment to the necessary ice time needed to support this as well as other regularly scheduled skate-related activities. We would like to bid for SEGL and regionals but, once again, would need the city’s commitment to double rink availability.

What your skaters would do if the main rink closes?

Julie McDougal: The city of Hoover has agreed to build one regulation size ice rink, to be located approximately 15 minutes from the Pelham Civic Complex. That, combined with the remaining practice rink at the complex would likely allow continued ice time availability for skaters, though we would not be able to bid for large-scale tournaments, competitions, and showcase events.

We see this as a disadvantage to the skaters working towards the goal of skating in national and international competitions.

I see now the situation is better. Isn’t it?

Julie McDougal: We are hopeful that the Mayor truly wants to work with us to better the management of the ice facility.

WFS - An independent online sports magazine