Gov. Asa Hutchinson was in Pine Bluff Friday morning to celebrate the start of an $800,000 renovation project at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s (UAPB) baseball facilities.

The new Simmons Bank Pavilion at the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball Complex will consist of a press box and concession stand. Moser Construction, LLC will start construction in the next several weeks, according to the university. The pavilion is scheduled to be completed in time for the first home game of the 2019 baseball season.

UAPB head baseball coach Carlos James shared the thoughts of the team.

“The baseball and softball teams are excited to see how the pavilion turns out. We hope these improvements encourage more game attendance and support for both baseball and softball,” James said.

Earlier this year, Simmons announced that they were donating $2.5 million to the university for athletic facility improvements. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday at the newly-named Simmons Bank Field, where new turf, a scoreboard and a host of other improvements were unveiled to the public after construction over the summer, which was funded by the donation.

It was recently announced that the University of Arkansas Razorbacks will host the Golden Lions for a baseball game next season, and Hutchinson said he knows that means a lot to the Golden Lions program.

“I’m here today because I think it recognizes the importance of sports in terms of student life,” Hutchinson said, noting that this was the first time he has ever helped break ground at a baseball stadium. “I applaud the trustees of the University of Arkansas for supporting a game within the system. As I talk to some of the athletes back here, they’re pretty excited that they’re going to get to play the Razorbacks.”

Hutchinson recognized the importance of UAPB to the University of Arkansas system. Also, he showed his respect for Pine Bluff native Hunter for what he’s coming back to do in his hometown after a 17-year career in the Major Leagues.

“Competition in team sports adds to academic life and the recruitment of students,” Hutchinson said. “I’m here also because this reflects the importance of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the University of Arkansas system. It’s also important not just to the system, but the state of Arkansas. I believe in UAPB, I support it every chance I get. I like the direction that you’re going in terms of the top-notch students you’re recruiting, the programs you’re enhancing, and the way you’re working as a team with the state of Arkansas in enhancing opportunities within UAPB.”

“Finally, this does reflect our appreciation and affection for a hometown hero, Torii Hunter,” Hutchinson continued. “This is a special day. I’ve been able to follow him in the sports world and to see his success on the baseball field at the highest level. Now to be able to see his commitment to Pine Bluff and to Arkansas it is a joy to be able to come here and break ground on this facility.”

Before Hutchinson spoke, UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander took the podium to explain how important the moment was for UAPB baseball and what it means for the city of Pine Bluff.

Along with the new Simmons Bank Pavilion, there will be a press box, concession stand, restrooms, and locker rooms added to enhance the experience for the student-athletes and the program supporters.

“I’m honored to be here to welcome each and every one of you to this momentous occasion,” Alexander said. “Our Golden Lions baseball team adds entertainment and enrichment to an already rich culture we have here at UAPB. It’s important that we invest in them. Today we break ground on this new structure that facilities this investment. This pavilion here at the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball Complex will house a press box, concession stand, locker rooms, and restrooms adding to the University, the city, the region, and elevating the experience of our fans.”

Alexander thanked those who were instrumental in making this come to fruition. Torii and Katrina Hunter, Bill and Sherry Jones, Simmons Bank and Simmons CEO George Makris Jr. were all recognized for their commitment to the building of the new facilities.

“It’s our hope to host members of the community as they participate and enjoy little league games, which is one of the dreams of Torii and Katrina Hunter,” Alexander said.

“This would not be possible without the generosity of our partners Bill and Sherry Jones. They have labored for years to raise the funds necessary, working together with us and with Torii, and they’ve given so much personally to this project. Much recognition should also go today to Simmons Bank, which played a central role in raising the funds to complete the construction of the building. Thus it’s fitting that this structure will be named Simmons Bank Pavilion.”

Hunter, a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star selection and nine-time Gold Glove winner, provided the initial donation the started renovations on the complex nearly seven years ago.

“Katrina and I are very excited that this project is coming to completion,” Torii Hunter said. “I was taught when I was growing up that when you do something, you do it right; and anything you want to make great takes time, effort and support. I am thankful for all parties involved who played a role in making this happen.

“This complex is not only a great facility for UAPB but for the entire community. I read somewhere that a legacy is a reflection of the past and a look to the future. This complex will be a legacy for years to come.”

Makris said that “it’s an honor to be among this community of UAPB supporters today and a privilege to break ground on this shared vision that will soon be coming to life.”