The town of Pembroke, North Carolina was established in 1895. It’s located in Robeson County in the southeastern part of the state, along the Lumber River two hours south of Raleigh and two hours east of Charlotte.
Pembroke is a growing community, and is regarded as the social, political, cultural and commercial center for the Lumbee Tribe, which—with over 58,000 members—is the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River.
Now, on September 11, 2020, a $5.2 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant was awarded to the Town of Pembroke. The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant—the current administration’s dumbed-down version of the previous TIGER Grant program—is to be used for much-needed infrastructure improvements, primarily in the downtown district of the town.
The town’s own funding—along with additional money from the North Carolina Department of Transportation—will join the BUILD grant award for a total estimated project cost of $6.69 million. The bulk of the funding will be used for new multi-modal transportation improvements and increased interconnectivity infrastructure in downtown Pembroke with the goal of creating a safer, more pedestrian-friendly area for residents, students and visitors.
Officials and leaders in the town of Pembroke say this funding could not come at a better time—on the heels of three years of explosive enrollment growth at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus spurring the region’s economy into action.
“This investment is a big deal for Pembroke, connecting the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to major areas of town by installing two-way left turn lanes on Highway 711 with pedestrian and bike paths,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “This project will create safer access for those to enjoy the town and I am proud to have worked hard to make this opportunity a reality for Pembroke.”
Over the last three years, the university’s enrollment has swelled from 6,252 in the fall of 2017 to a record high of 8,262 in the fall of 2020. The more than 32% growth has been accompanied by new construction and development surrounding the university and in the town.
Two redevelopment projects are nearing completion in the coming months; the mixed-use A.S. Thomas Center downtown and residential community the Villages at Hunter’s Run. A third project on Prospect Road recently broke ground on an additional 192 residential units. In addition, a variety of retailers and businesses have begun to take note and see Pembroke as a good option for expansion.
The town, along with local leaders and officials, have been seeking BUILD funding for the long-awaited improvement project for the last 5 years. The project was first initiated in 2015 thanks to the support of North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore – whose support enabled the Town to begin an initial feasibility study for the downtown corridor.
The first to announce the news, Congressman Dan Bishop said of the award, “The folks in Pembroke have been pursuing this grant for five years because of the critical need to increase the town’s transportation infrastructure to integrate with and complement improvements serving the University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus. I made it a top priority throughout my first year in Congress and worked closely with community and Lumbee Tribal leaders to understand and advocate effectively for it.”
Among other North Carolina leaders advocating for the project, Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis touted the project as an important step in enhancing safety for the area, acknowledging the downtown’s critical role linking the Town, the Lumbee Tribe and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“Today’s announcement is great news for the Town of Pembroke,” said Senator Burr. “This federal grant award will create a safer transportation system between downtown Pembroke, the University, and the Lumbee Tribal lands. I want to thank Secretary Chao for recognizing the importance of this project. I also want to thank the state and local officials who helped bring this highly competitive grant to their community.”
Pembroke’s Mayor, Charles Gregory Cummings, says BUILD funding is a critical part of the Town’s ability to match this growth in the community with key safety, infrastructure and aesthetic improvements.
“This 2020 BUILD grant award will ensure that we have the funding for important infrastructure improvements for our growing community while also greatly improving the safety of motorists and pedestrians in our Town,” said Cummings. “I would like to thank Senator Richard Burr, Senator Thom Tillis and Congressman Dan Bishop for their long-term support of this project and their leadership in Congress. I would also like to thank the U.S. Department of Transportation for choosing the Town of Pembroke as one of the recipients of this grant this year.”
“I am thrilled with the decision of Secretary Chao and the DOT to fund the Town of Pembroke’s BUILD grant. UNCP is proud to have worked with the Town’s leadership on this application,” said UNCP Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.
“Connecting the university to downtown in a safe, pedestrian-friendly way is important for our students and the citizens of Pembroke. The main street makeover, along with the soon-to-be-completed A.S. Thomas Center, will be a visionary transformation and impact the future growth of the town, our university and the region in a powerful way,” he added.
This award follows a focused, collaborative effort by the Town of Pembroke (Mayor Greg Cummings, Mayor Pro-Tempore Channing Jones, Councilwoman Theresa Locklear, Councilmen Ryan Sampson and Larry McNeill and Town Manager Tyler Thomas) and community leaders, including Representative Dan Bishop, Sen. Thom Tillis, Sen. Richard Burr and UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings, among many others. Also championing the effort was the local elected state delegation. The pivotal project is anticipated to begin in December 2020 and will take approximately two and a half years to complete in entirety.
Photo of the campus is courtesy of University of North Carolina at Pembroke.