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Pembroke adds new face in historic place
City names Hernandez as DDA director
Renee Hernandez
Renee Hernandez grew up in North Bryan. Now she's Pembroke's Downtown Development Authority director.

Renee Hernandez wasn’t born in North Bryan, but she was raised here.

Hernandez, recently named director of the Pembroke Downtown Development Authority, moved to North Bryan when she was 4, and “was fortunate to attend K-12 in the close-knit North Bryan schools,” she said.

Those days fostered what she called a strong sense of community and initially led her to dream of working as a teacher in North Bryan. But life had other plans.

“During my second year at Armstrong Atlantic State University, I began working as a leasing consultant in multi-family housing,” she said. “Before I knew it, I was managing multi-million dollar housing developments in Chatham County. From then on, my education centered around business management, marketing and state housing regulations.”

Hernandez believes the training she’s had in areas such as marketing and community engagement translates into downtown development and will help her in her role as director of both the DDA director and Pembroke’s Main Street Program.

As such, Hernandez is tasked with coordinating events and helping grow downtown business “while still maintaining historic preservation awareness,” she said. “In a nutshell, focusing on the live, work, play aspects of downtown while embracing the historic charm that is uniquely Pembroke.”

Ultimately, the idea is to help rejuvenate the city by “facilitate a flourishing downtown district where businesses seek out Pembroke locations and feel confident they will have the business necessary to sustain them,” Hernandez said, adding that means drawing attention to North Bryan.

“That means coordinating creative events that draw in locals and those from surrounding areas,” she said. “During these events it’s important to highlight the businesses that are already established and flourishing, to attract future investors.”

And though Hernandez grew up in North Bryan, she knows what it’s like to come back home in search of a dream. She and her husband, Rodolfo, lived in Savannah “for a few years,” before buying a home in Pembroke a few blocks from downtown. 

Then, in 2017, “we were blessed with a beautiful daughter, Emma Claire,” Hernandez said. 

A dozen weeks into her pregnancy, she and her husband learned their daughter had Down Syndrome, and Emma Claire spent 40 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursey at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. 

They also learned something else. 

“The outpouring of love and support we received from this community during that time was so overwhelming and humbling,” Hernandez said. “It was further proof that North Bryan is a great community in which to live.”

New life for building 
At some point soon, Pembroke’s Welcome Center may have a ribbon cutting to mark the historic building’s latest role in the city’s 113-year history, this time as  home to the city’s Downtown Development Authority. 
But it’s just the latest incarnation for the tiny two-story building on McEachin Square. The structure at the intersection of highways 280, 119 and 67 has had a number of reincarnations in its time, serving as everything from a fire station in the 1930s to a municipal courtroom to the home of the North Bryan Chamber in the 2010s. 
In between, a group of local women led by Helen DeLaHunt and Clarice Jones got together in the 1980s and turned it into the Pembroke Welcome Center, from where they would distribute welcome packets, plan and then host events in the nearby park. And not too long ago, the online radio station set up shop, only to learn that its broadcasts somehow interfered with train radios passing by.
“We’ve been recycling in Pembroke for years,” said the city’ mayor, Judy Cook
But the former Pembroke Welcome Center’s most interesting use, however, may’ve been in the 1950s during the Cold War, according to City Administrator Alex Floyd. 
That’s when his grandmother, Rose Mock, was a sixth grader. 
“She was assigned to that building, where she was supposed to watch out for airplanes in case the commies decided to bomb Pembroke,” Floyd said. 
Mock wasn’t the only one assigned to keep a sharp eye out for enemy aircraft atop the building, according to Cook, who recalled Ann Sanders was among those who served as a lookout as part of a civil air patrol group. 
These days the building is spotting fresh paint and has been spruced up, thanks to state Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, who made sure Pembroke got enough prison labor to get the building fixed up. It will include offices downstairs and room for meetings upstairs, and officials say it will continue to serve as a hub downtown. 
Cook, who retired as city clerk in 1994 before becoming Pembroke’s first woman mayor in 2000, said she knows firsthand there’s plenty of room inside the center for whatever the DDA needs. 
“I was the clerk when it was the municipal courthouse,” she said. “They heard cases upstairs. You’d be surprised how many people fit in that building.”

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