PEMBROKE — “Persistence paid off” when it came to the town of Pembroke finding the money to pay for improvements and beautification of the downtown area.
That was the message for local, state and federal officials who gathered Friday in Pembroke Town Hall to publicly announce, and sing the praises of, the $5.2 million grant the town has been awarded to fund the creation of a new downtown. The money is part of the Trump administration’s $1 billion investment in American infrastructure through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, Transportation Discretionary Grants program.
“Five years, thank you for your perseverance in getting things done,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis told Pembroke officials. “Your hard work has paid off.”
The town for the past five years has been seeking the funding for the improvements of the downtown corridors. The project was first initiated by N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore. Tillis said the Pembroke project was always a top priority when he made calls to U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao.
“I always enjoy the calls when Secretary Chao initiates them, and she did last week when she called and said we got $5.2 million to get this project going,” Tillis said. “This is a great win for the town and it’s a win because y’all made it happen. We just facilitated things.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop said the grant demonstrates the Department of Transportation and the Trump administration’s commitment to help rural communities.
Bishop said the town has a lot of “irons in the fire.”
“That’s a sign of a thriving, vibrant community,” he said.
It has been the goal of the town for many years to make the project happen, Mayor Greg Cummings said.
“This has been a multi-year effort,” Cummings said. “A lot of small actions have taken place with the town council.”
Cummings said that the town council members voted collectively in favor of the project 100% of the time, “whether it was a small action or large action.”
“This particular project will have a major, major impact on our economy in the town of Pembroke for years to come, especially the tax base of the town itself,” the mayor said.
The bulk of the funding will be used for new multi-modal transportation improvements and increased inter-connectivity infrastructure in downtown Pembroke, with the goal of creating a safer, more pedestrian-friendly area for residents and visitors.
The project includes the installation of dedicated two-way left turn lanes on N.C. 711 and about 12,400 linear feet of bike and pedestrian pathways. There also will be street improvements in the center of historic downtown, including replacing deteriorated infrastructure and installing lighting and landscaping, crosswalks, ramps, bike lanes, and new sidewalks. The project also includes repairing deteriorating subsurface stormwater and sewer infrastructure in conjunction with surface treatments.
The goal is to enhance the connectivity between the western portion of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and small businesses downtown.
Chancellor Robin Cummings said the BUILD Grant was “absolutely essential” to UNCP, which continues to see enrollment growth.
“For further growth to happen, for this growth to sustain, our town has to grow with it,” he said.
The chancellor said that he met Thursday with William Harris, chief of the Catawba Indian Nation, to give him a tour a campus. As the tour ended at the Southeast Museum of the American Indian they were met with an omen.
“We walked out and looked over to the left toward Old Main, and no exaggeration, we looked toward downtown and you could see the most intense, the most complete end-to-end, the most vibrant beautiful rainbow that you could imagine,” Chancellor Cummings said. “It really looked like one end of that rainbow ended up in downtown Pembroke.”
The rainbow was an “omen” of what was to come if the community and university works as one, he said.
“We can certainly believe in the vision and the promise that that rainbow represents,” the chancellor said. “We celebrate what can happen, what we can achieve what a town and community work together with a vision with the university.”
Mayor Cummings said it was the tireless efforts of legislators who advocated on behalf of the town, the university and the Lumbee Tribe, that led to the success of the project and ultimately “persistence paid off.”
“Wow, what a relationship. We are blessed,” he said.
The project is expected to begin in December and will take about 2.5 years to complete.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.