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Appears the interim director of Uptown Greenville has good knowledge of its operations. So let's look elsewhere, form a...

TowneBank Tower: From construction zone to show area

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Visitors to TowneBank Tower no longer have to wear constructions hats.

That was one of several signs that the tower is almost completely functional. East Carolina University graphics and Pirate logos are being added daily and the frequent instillation of televisions continues.

ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert on Monday led local media members on a tour of the Pirates' new five-story press box and fan premium seating area at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. What used to be weekly visits by Gilbert, J.J. McLamb and other ECU athletics administrations now are daily check-ins.

"It's finally here and we are excited about it and I think this really will transform our game day experience," Gilbert, who has been the Pirates' athletics director since Dec. 3, said from inside one of the rooms on the top floor of TowneBank Tower.

The tower is the key piece in ECU's $60 million Southside Renovation Project that was initiated in March of 2016 by then-AD Jeff Compher.

Monday's tour of the facility and other renovated Pirate facilities kicked off an important week for ECU athletics, during which a TowneBank Tower ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Friday and the annual Meet the Pirates event is on Saturday.

Meet the Pirates, which will run from 4-8 p.m., is an event where fans are encouraged to come to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to meet ECU football players and have their own opportunity to roam inside TowneBank Tower.

Gilbert said that Meet the Pirates should be a beneficial event for ECU staff.

"I am looking at that as kind of a soft opening where we expect a lot of foot traffic," he said. "We'll learn a lot about the facility during that day. Anybody who wants to come tour TowneBank Tower on Saturday at 4 o'clock is welcome to do so."

Gilbert said there still is a lot to do before ECU's first home football game on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. against Gardner-Webb.

"…It is going to take some time, operationally, to be at game speed, but I certainly am really encouraged. ... I feel really good about where we are right now and from a functionality standpoint, we'll be fully operational by Sept. 7," he said.

Seats still are available, mainly in the scholarship club level where Gilbert said about 150 of the 530 available seats still can be purchased. Two loge boxes still are available among the 46 total suites and loge boxes.

"Obviously we want everything to be finished and it to be perfect when (fans) come up, but we know this is a great project that changes the landscape of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium," said McLamb, who is the Pirates' assistant AD for internal operations. "As you (drive) up and see around Clark-LeClair Stadium (ECU's baseball stadium off Charles Boulevard), you see TowneBank Tower and we know it's a fabulous structure. We are working out the kinks, but everything is going to be fine as we prepare for Sept. 7."

Ryan Robinson, Pirate assistant athletics director for external operations, said the ECU press box area now has 102 seats, which he said is more than North Carolina (77) and compares to 108 at N.C. State and 120 at national powerhouse Alabama.

The opening of TowneBank Tower comes as ECU is investing in its athletics program, during a time of financial challenges for ECU athletics and the university. The Pirates are expecting better results in football and men's basketball as soon as this year, beginning later this month when the Pirates kick off their football season under first-year Pirate coach Mike Houston on Aug. 31 at rival N.C. State.

ECU finished 3-9 each of the last three football seasons, which led to the firing of coach Scottie Montgomery and hiring Houston from a winning program at James Madison.

Gilbert and Houston have looked at various ways to improve the Pirates and build optimism since they came to Greenville in December. That included hiring Kristina Parrish, the university's first-ever director of sports nutrition, and this summer renovating ECU football's practice fields and upgrading the Murphy Center with new weights and equipment for team and player workouts.

"The most important thing we did was rebuild our nutrition and fueling station," ECU first-year director of strength and conditioning John Williams said inside the Murphy Center. "That was part of Jon Gilbert's vision to serve our student-athletes in a complete capacity."

Houston also was asked after Monday's preseason practice about TowneBank Tower. He said his team toured the building on Sunday.

"No. 1 is what an impressive facility that we are fortunate to have here at East Carolina University," Houston said. "Not only is it going to be a benefit to the football program, but it is a benefit to the entire institution and the surrounding area. It will be a great game day experience for fans, but at the same time, we are going to use it with recruiting on official visits and use it as a point of emphasis for the commitment that has been shown by the institution to football."

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

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