Pembroke can now lay claim to its official recognition as a city with downtown distinction. On June 25, Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Mike Beatty established Pembroke, along with 77 additional local communities, as a city that has achieved "National Main Street" accreditation.
Earlier this year, DCA also recognized Pembroke as one of three of the Better Hometowns in the state of Georgia. According to DCA Communications, the Better Hometown program "offers ‘self-help’ community development programs to stimulate downtown revitalization in cities with populations of 5,000 or less."
Tonya Raulerson is currently the City of Pembroke’s Downtown Project Coordinator. After receiving the Better Hometown award, she now holds the additional title as Better Hometown Manager in Pembroke.
Having worked for the city for seven years, Raulerson says that the downtown development efforts have been in full-swing since she first started. Beginning with a state TEA grant several years ago, Pembroke Mayor Judy Cook and the City Council formed a Revitalization Committee, and the joint efforts of the city and this committee have led to the downtown advancements of Pembroke today.
"The area has changed tremendously since I’ve worked here," Raulerson said. "The Revitalization Committee did [Phase One] a few years ago, and it’s helped downtown look better for sure, but it’s also brought new businesses. We have one of the smallest cities, and we’ve gotten many compliments. The Mayor has worked really hard for this."
As far as continuing with downtown plans for development, Raulerson says Phase Two is in the works for the upcoming year. Having already been approved, the revitalization efforts are planned from College Street to Warnell Street, starting where the committee left off in Phase One and continuing with new landscaping, lampposts, and sidewalks.
According to Cook, Pembroke is already "ahead of the curve" because it has such a growing downtown district. As a Better Hometown, Pembroke can use its status in a variety of ways; Cook lists being recognized as a Better Hometown on applications submitted for the city and getting technical assistance from DCA as two examples of why the program is important.
"We’re very excited, we’ve been trying for years," she says on receiving the award. Cook gives another illustration of how the Better Hometown program is currently working for the community, informing that "we are partnering with Mercy Housing in order to build an apartment complex for low-income housing." The apartment complex is just one of the ways in which the program is designed to help those living in the community.
Raulerson also talks about the city’s Better Hometown award: "When we submitted our application, we had to have goals outlined for the city, and we had to have long-term plans."
In order for a city to maintain status as a Better Hometown, the city must continue working to achieve its goals. "For the things you’ve already accomplished, you have to upkeep them," Raulerson said.
Among several other projects, some future goals are to revamp the city’s theater, and add another park to downtown Pembroke.
"Another thing we’ll be doing," Cook said, "is we’ve gotten new construction in our downtown historic district, and we got an application for re-zoning near St. Josephs. Development can be built to the street, but will be putting parking in the back of buildings, making downtown more ‘village commercial,’ and we’re excited about that."
Cook is thrilled with the results of the city’s revitalization, and is especially thankful for Raulerson, the Downtown Development Authority, and her whole staff, enthusiastically noting that they "have all done a really great job. This is an exciting time for Pembroke; I can’t say enough good things about the people in our community."
The awards were presented during the 2007 Georgia Municipal Association Convention in Savannah. While downtown communities across the country have been experiencing a general decline, DCA celebrates those who have "decided to take action and combine the energy of private and public community leaders to revitalize their downtown areas."
In 1980, Georgia became one of six states to initiate a Main Street program. Today, the DCA affirms that Georgia "is home to more than 100 communities that have committed resources to this unique and comprehensive downtown revitalization effort."
While Cook admits that Pembroke has felt some "growing pains," she and the community are looking forward to what the future holds for the city.
"We really want controlled growth," she explains. "And we’re very fortunate to have so many state routes that intersect us - we’ve been ‘discovered’ but we still want to maintain our downtown atmosphere because it appeals to a lot of people. We’re encouraging our developments to be ‘user friendly’ for pedestrians and people who want to be outside enjoying our community."