One of the biggest assets the city and people of Belen have, compared to other local cities and towns nearby, is it has a historic, arts and cultural district.

Even though it is still not in a mature phase, it attracts people and business from inside and outside of Belen to visit and spend their money and provide taxes for the city.

For every dollar the city invested in the program over the last nine years, we have been returning about five hard dollars, not to mention the value of thousands of volunteer hours in benefits back to the citizens. We all wish our own businesses or local investments could get anywhere near that.

We are a small group of relentless volunteers who work to preserve our cultural and historic properties, improve our business climate in the district and create more opportunities for businesses and people.

Even though the Belen Mainstreet Partnership receives less funding than all other New Mexico jurisdictions, the volunteer organization provides an exceptional return on investment and has acquired more than $1 million in grants for the city and residents of Belen.

What is Belen MainStreet Partnership? Do they only care about Downtown Belen? These are typical questions asked when referring to the BMSP. They acquire grants, oversee projects, repair historical buildings, work to bring business to the city and preserve historic buildings in downtown Belen. Currently there are people with experience in architecture, finance, business, real estate, local politics and more on the board.

“Belen MainStreet Partnership has come a long way since joining the New Mexico MainStreet network in 2009,” said Daniel Gutierrez, state director of the New Mexico Mainstreet Program. “They are designated an Accredited Main Street America program by NMMS and the National Main Street Center for their work securing more than $620,000 for the Becker Avenue Great Blocks on MainStreet street scape project and their strong support of local businesses in their district.”

Although BMSP has recently acquired a large grant from the state to improve the streets and areas in the historic district, many people still wonder why it is not spent in other parts of the city. Everyone agrees the sidewalks, streets and infrastructure could be improved throughout the city. Unfortunately, there are rules and regulations that require these monies to be used in specific ways to focus on preservation and business development in a specific area.

The money from grants is earmarked to enhance initiatives in the city. It is up to local government to provide the basic needs. The BMSP grants go above and beyond the city’s basic services. In fact, as soon as the project is complete on Becker Avenue, BMSP is in line for another and the board believes they have a great chance to receive about $1 million more. If they are successful, Phase II will continue north on First Street.

The not-for-profit organization has many irons in the fire, including the Mainstreet Arts and Cultural (AC) Jumpstart program for establishing an arts and cultural district designation.

“This program could help to gain access to much more in funding and includes all of our assets in the district, including the library, museums, restaurants, railroad, wineries, local crafts, artists and events,” said Rhona Espinoza, state and nationally certified executive director of the BMSP. “Soon, our board will be appointing a steering committee made up of those interests to help bring even more life and business to the area.”

Some of the revitalization projects they oversee include many of the renovations to the old City Hall building, the Farmers Market at Anna Becker Park, El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, Believe In Belen, more than $5,000 for PPE to assist local businesses in 2020, a recent Christmas food drive, more than $500,000 in grants for the Great Blocks Grant on Becker Avenue, and many old building facade renovations.

Many other projects are in the works, including a way-finding signage project and placemaking projects.

There are several basic reasons for the success of Belen’s organization, including a strong, engaged board; support from the city administration and a dedicated staff. The new city manager and the development services director have been very supportive, but after the presidents, board members, city officials and administration move on, our staff has to carry out our initiatives to the final stages. Rhona Baca Espinoza and Assistant Executive Director Joella Patterson are the bedrock.

The Belen Mainstreet Partnership board of directors is made up of local citizen volunteers, including Eloisa Tabet, Sonya Sanchez, Jay Peters, Tom Greer, Jim Sloan, Hud Griffith, and several liaisons who are also very active in the initiatives.

Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. represents the city council, Steven Tomita represents the city of Belen, Rosa Sisneros represents the El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, Kathleen Pickering represents the library and Jim Sloan is the liaison to the Valencia County Historical Society.

(Jay Peters is chairman of the Belen MainStreet Partnership board of directors)

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Jay Peters, guest columnist