BELEN—More than half a million dollars in grant money will be invested in improving one block of Becker Avenue in Belen.
New Mexico MainStreet and the New Mexico Economic Development Department has awarded Belen MainStreet Partnership, in partnership with the city, a $530,000 grant for infrastructure improvements between First and Second streets.
The amount of money to be spent on the project will be increased by about $45,000 as the city council recently approved a resolution to match 20 percent of the grant with funding and/or in-kind services for the work.
Rhona Baca Espinoza, the executive director of the Belen MainStreet Partnership, said this funding will help with the organization’s first phase of the project.
“We were first awarded $80,000 to hire a landscape architect to put together a plan for two blocks on First Street and one block up Becker Avenue,” Espinoza said. “MRWM Landscape Architects is the design architect we used and they got it done.”
Once Belen MainStreet Partnership received the plan, they were then able to apply for Great Blocks grant money, which was capital outlay funding the New Mexico Economic Development Department secured from the Legislature.
“The economic development department awarded New Mexico MainStreet $4 million of the capital outlay money, and New Mexico MainStreet set aside $3.2 million for construction-ready projects,” she said. “There were eight of us who applied, and Belen was one of the five that was awarded.”
With a total cost of $2.2 million for the entire project, MRWM told Espinoza it would be most viable to complete the Becker Avenue portion of the project first at a cost of $800,000.
MRWM put a plan together for the local organization with the new $530,000 price tag, and they gave them three options — two of which would have encompassed a larger area but wouldn’t have included everything they wanted.
The option they chose includes lighting, landscaping, redesign of the street, benches, trash receptacles and the widened sidewalks. There will also be additional parking for the block.
“Part of the city’s 20 percent match can be in-kind services, so we can utilize Steven Tomita’s (the city’s planning and economic development manager) time,” she said.
Last year, Belen MainStreet Partnership received a $10,000 grant for wayfinding, and they’ll be able to include that funding in the match, Espinoza said.
“What distinguishes us from other MainStreets in the state is we have a retired design architect as our president, Jim Rende,” she said. “We are blessed to have his expertise and knowing what to ask for.”
Espinoza said the intention of the project is to create a sense of place in downtown Belen, where Judy Chicago’s Through the Flower Art Space opened last year, and other businesses, such as the Jaramillo Vineyards Tasting Room across the street.
“Once our legislators see what we can accomplish, hopefully they’ll be able to allocate additional funds to complete the whole project,” Espinoza said. “New Mexico MainStreet has been so good to Belen. They really want to see great things for the Hub City. This is very exciting, and everyone is working well together.”
Construction of phase one will begin this spring.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.