Pirates Ready to Show Off TowneBank Tower

In The News
8/1/2019 | Greenville, NC

Story and Photos by: Ronnie Woodward, The Daily Reflector

East Carolina University’s football team begins preseason practice Friday under first-year Pirate coach Mike Houston, and the Pirates’ first game with their new coach is Aug. 31 at rival N.C. State.

Other important dates to highlight, especially for ECU fans, are Aug. 16 and Aug. 17, which will celebrate the opening of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium’s TowneBank Tower.

ECU is planning on an Aug. 16 ribbon cutting for the $60 million Southside Renovation Project, a brick and steel tower that features luxury suites, premium seating and high-tech press box. The next day is the annual Meet the Pirates event, which this year will feature an open-house style opportunity for fans to check out the most extensive project to enhance Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since it opened in 1963.

“The first thing is it passes the look test,” said Pirate athletics director Jon Gilbert, who like Houston also is in his first year at ECU. “It should enhance our game day atmosphere and enhance our recruiting as well. … I want it to be a first-class experience, starting in the parking lot and then the way (fans) are greeted at the stadium and certainly their experience in the seats."

The Southside Renovation Project was initiated by previous AD Jeff Compher in March of 2016. Work by T.A. Loving Co. and Frank L. Blum Construction ramped up after the 2018 season to be completely finished in early August.

ECU will hold its home-opener Sept. 7 against Gardner-Webb at 6 p.m.

Construction crews and university officials used the football press box and suites buildings already in place at the University of Cincinnati, Texas Christian and Wake Forest as guiding posts. The Pirates’ previous press box structure was installed in 1977.

“While our previous space had an antiquated charm of sorts, we are now in a position to offer amenities to our friends in the media that will enable us to provide a conducive and functional working environment that fully complements our lasting commitment to customer service,” ECU media relations director Tom McClellan said.

“The renovation has not only allowed us to catch up, but in my opinion, surpass facilities our colleagues across the American Athletic Conference currently enjoy. In fact, saying it is more aligned with many of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference schools I've had the opportunity to visit certainly wouldn't be an exaggeration."

A new experience for many fans will feature a total of 46 suites and loge boxes inside the five-story structure. The scholarship club levels include 530 seats available to sell. ECU will have six home football games this season.

In addition to its most obvious use during football games, Gilbert also has talked about wanting to rent out the tower for other activities.

“The club level is a sports bar type of atmosphere up here,” he said during a tour for local media members in April. “We talk about what we can use it for other than the six Saturdays per year, and this room will be used for a multitude of functions from weddings to us using it for recruiting. This room really excites me."

ECU has had three football coaches, including Houston, since Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium’s last renovation in 2010, when the Boneyard student seating section was created behind the east end zone. The expansion added 7,000 seats for a 50,000 capacity. Senior associate athletics director for internal operations J.J. McLamb said that project cost about $18 million.

East Carolina then left Conference USA for the more-competitive American Athletic Conference in 2014, and is still trying to find its footing in the AAC. Previous coach Scottie Montgomery posted three straight 3-9 overall records before being fired.

TowneBank Tower’s opening coincides with optimism with many Pirate fans about Gilbert, Houston and others at ECU.

“It’s a game-changer for us,” McLamb said of the stadium upgrades. “It really transforms our stadium, not from the functionality of what we are doing, but with the appearance. People will come in and when you have that structure sitting there, even flying in and out of the Pitt-Greenville Airport, you’ll see it."

TowneBank’s headquarters are in Suffolk, Va. The bank has more than 40 locations in Virginia and North Carolina, including a strong foothold in the Outer Banks.

A Greenville location opened early this year on Charles Boulevard.

“We thought this was an important thing to do to help bring this program forward and we hope to create a lot of winning seasons,” said Bob Aston, executive chairman of TowneBank, during a visit to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. “We have a nice and new great coach and we are excited about him. We are pleased to be here."

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