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TowneBank Tower is official for Pirates

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TowneBank executive chairman Bob Aston is interviewed at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in front of the TowneBank Tower to highlight East Carolina athletics' Southside Renovation Project.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

TowneBank opened a Greenville location on Charles Boulevard in February and already has claimed a vital partnership in Pitt County, making a $3 million commitment for East Carolina University’s new five-story football press box and suites structure, which will be named TowneBank Tower.

The joint announcement came on Wednesday at the end of the Pirates’ spring football practice inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, sparking excitement from the team, first-year head football coach Mike Houston and representatives in attendance from TowneBank.

“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, headquartered in Suffolk, Va., with 41 locations in Virginia and North Carolina, including the Outer Banks. “We have a nice and new great coach and we are excited about him. We are pleased to be here.”

The tower is the centerpiece of ECU athletics’ $60 million Southside Renovation Project, which is on track to be completed this summer and will add 1,000 seats through a new club level and a variety of suites and loge boxes. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium’s capacity was at 50,000, and four straight losing seasons left many of those seat empty.

The Pirates fired coach Scottie Montgomery before last season’s final game and quickly hired Houston, who has an 80-25 career record and won a Football Championship Subdivision national championship at James Madison in 2016.

Athletics director Jon Gilbert said there is some work left to do to sell all the fan space available in TowneBank Tower.

“We are working through that list and there is limited inventory available,” he said. “I think most of our boxes are accounted for and we do still have some club level seats that are available, but sales have picked up on those. I will tell you that we still have some inventory in our scholarship club that we still need to move.”

The tower is replacing the previous press box structure, which was installed in 1977.

Wednesday served as another important day for the Pirates and Gilbert, who also was hired in December from Southern Miss and has worked on trying to start building ECU athletics back to previous heights.

“We are going to open that structure in a few months, and being able to put a name on it and the value that creates that a new company in the town is willing to invest money in and put their name on it, that tells me that people are excited about this institution and the athletic program and the direction of the football program,” Gilbert said. “We can’t survive without private giving. … We are not going to take shortcuts and we want to do it the right way and earn trust in our community.

“It is really important to me, and this is another important step in the process that as we have a community and a bank that is willing to invest in us, we have to continue to earn that trust and show value to them,” he said.

Gilbert added that the tower also will be available for people and companies to rent for social events such as weddings and other parties.

He and Pirate Club executive director Phillip Wood both said that secondary naming rights are likely to be announced at a later date.

“We still have right at $5 million left in philanthropic opportunities and we still have naming opportunities available that total that amount,” Wood said. “Certainly with our staff and the environment that we are in right now, it is a good time and there are a lot of positives and we’re excited to have more conversations with folks.”

This announcement also was timely from a football perspective, with the team preparing for Saturday’s annual Purple-Gold Game that also coincides with PirateFest weekend.

Administrators and TowneBank representatives watched as the Pirates held a rare practice inside their home stadium Wednesday and ended it with spirited offense-versus-defense drills in front of the onlookers. The spring football game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“This was a great way to end practice today,” Houston said. “When you look at the tower and TowneBank, we really appreciate the commitment made there by our community to support our university and our athletic program, but the other thing for us is excitement for this weekend.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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