New athletic facilities don’t just allow collegiate teams to pursue broader opportunities; they provide a visual representation of where a program plans to go.
If the media tour of East Carolina’s new and renovated spaces Monday is any indication, the Pirates’ top athletic leadership has grand visions indeed.
“It’s almost like a dream,” said J.J. McLamb, the senior associate athletics director for internal operations. “You start having this vision and folks are talking about, ‘We’re going to build this structure at Dowdy-Ficklen. You start putting the processes in place, you meet with your development staff and they start putting together a plan. And then we go around the country looking at other facilities, picking out things we like from each facility and bringing back, and meeting with architects. But to see it come out of the ground, from where we were 18 months ago to today, it’s amazing.”
As Athletic Director Jon Gilbert, McLamb and Ryan Robinson (the executive associate athletics director for external operations) pointed out improvements at Minges Coliseum, the Murphy Center strength and conditioning facility and the long-awaited TowneBank Tower on the south side of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, they focused both on the changes that can be seen and the proposed enhancements that fans can expect in the future.
At Minges, the highlight was the newly-painted floor that features the Jolly Roger logo, with the brand pattern along the sidelines and lighter wood and paint patterns, giving the arena a brighter look. Gilbert’s short-term wish list features more logos and distinctive marks along the concourses and in the entry portals.
“If you walk down this concourse, you really can’t tell other than the purple and gold what place you’re in,” Gilbert said. “I want to make sure that we are doing a good job of putting our logo and our marks in various locations.”
The next stop on the tour was the weight room in the Murphy Center, where a face lift has included all new free weights and cardio machines, new flooring, and a new nutrition center for Kristina Parrish, ECU’s new director of sports nutrition, to dispense food that will also serve as fuel for the athletes.
The turf area, designed for sprinting, that was previously in the center of the facility has been moved right next to the huge windows that overlook the football field.
“We took the spaces that were not being used to figure out usable ways for those areas,” said John Williams, ECU’s new director of strength and conditioning. “This is a work in progress. This is still not the final thing.”
The final stop for the group was TowneBank Tower, the quadruple-level luxury addition to Dowdy-Ficklen’s south side that has cost $60 million and spanned eighteen months. From lower to upper, the group walked through the club, loge, suite and press levels, with plenty of new elements to see even while ubiquitous construction crews worked on final touches.
Most of the suites and boxes are sold, Gilbert said, but 150 seats are still available on the club level and two of the 22 boxes on the loge level are up for grabs, at $12,000 a season for a refrigerator, indoor lounge area, outdoor seating and a food bar.
“I think it really is going to transform our game day experience,” Gilbert said. “I feel really good about where we are right now. Certainly there may not be all of the pictures on the wall or things like that, but from a functionality standpoint we’ll be fully operational by September 7.”
Another new feature that will be ready for families who come watch the Pirates take on Gardner-Webb that Saturday is the kids’ zone at the southwest corner of the stadium, which will feature inflatables, interactive games and a viewing area for parents who need to keep an eye on the game while their children are diverted.
“This is going to be a popular area on game day,” Robinson said.
The new facilities will also come with new traditions, he said, most notably the players’ Pirate walk, which will be led by the band and the cheerleaders and originate behind the south tailgating lot. The processional will cut through the middle of the lot and around behind Scales Field House, and fans are encouraged to arrive in time to be part of the festivities, which will start about two hours and forty-five minutes before kickoff.
For members of the Pirate Nation looking for something more than photos or video footage, ECU will throw open the doors of Townebank Tower for a public tour at Meet The Pirates on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.
“We’ll learn a lot about the facility that day,” Gilbert said.