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 Will Birmingham join the Southern Professional Hockey League?

 
  

February 2017

  
         
    The Pelham City Council agree to a lease of the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena for a new Southern Professional Hockey League team that will begin play in October 2017.

The lease is pending final approval by the city’s attorney.

An application to the SPHL has been submitted and approval should be received in around 30 days, Clarkson said. SPHL President Jim Combs said he appreciates the history of hockey in Birmingham and is currently reviewing the proposal for the new team to join his league. "Birmingham is a great market. I'm very familiar with the town and very familiar with Birmingham hockey," Combs said. He is in the process of reviewing the team's ownership and checking out the business plan and Pelham's arena. "We have to check out all those things before approval can be given. I'm very familiar with all that they're doing, and they seem to be heading in the right direction," Combs said.

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.

Clarkson said initially he wanted the new hockey team to play at the BJCC's Legacy Arena, which is where the ECHL Bulls played. "Our initial thought was to go to the BJCC and were in contact with them back in May. We wanted to get into the building, but we were not getting any response. We were given every reason in the book that we couldn't do it," Clarkson said. According to BJCC Director of Communications Cindy Crawford, the arena did discuss the possibility of bringing hockey back to the downtown area. "The BJCC discussed on several occasions with Mr. Clarkson the possibility of hockey returning to Legacy Arena at the BJCC, which has a long and proud hockey history, including being the venue in which Gordie Howe scored his 1000th goal. Following initial discussions culminating with decisions necessary by Mr. Clarkson, the BJCC did not receive any further communication. While many steps remained to fully evaluate the opportunity, discussions could not progress without communication from Mr. Clarkson," Crawford provided in a statement.

The team, likely to be named the Birmingham Bulls, will be owned by Art Clarkson. His ties to Birmingham sports date back many years. Previously, Clarkson brought back professional baseball to Birmingham in 1981 when he secured the Southern League's Montgomery Rebels franchise and relocated them to Rickwood Field as the Birmingham Barons. After selling his ownership in the Barons in 1989, he brought hockey back in 1992 with the Birmingham Bulls, a member of the East Coast Hockey League. Clarkson sells his interest in the Bulls in 1998.

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

But to be successful, 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.

Pelham Mayor Gary Waters says the city is dedicated to the venture. "We don't have a sufficient number of dressing rooms or concessions stands, and will need to add approximately 250 more seats to the main arena. We've been assured that we would have hockey by the fall of 2017, and I'm counting on that. I'm 100 percent behind it," Waters said.

The Pelham Ice Arena was home to three other professional hockey teams, the Alabama Gunners (1998), the Pelham Prowlers (1999), and the Alabama Slammers (2003). The Prowlers were the most successful, and won the Southern Elite Hockey League championship.
  
         
 
 

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Last Update: February 28, 2017