The City of Belen is officially a MainStreet community, after an announcement today by the New Mexico Department of Economic Development at the Heart of Belen gazebo in Belen.

“We really put applicant communities through a meat grinder, to see if they’re really ready to jump in and do something,” said Rich Williams, the head of the New Mexico MainStreet program. “It started about eight months ago with an application process, and it was rigorous. We started out with 17 communities, and then down to 11, and then down to a few finalists. Then we had the last three. We’re very excited to announce today that Belen is coming in as an emerging community.”

Belen’s acceptance into the state’s 24-year-old MainStreet program means the city will receive economic development assistance from the state in areas like historical preservation, promotion of the business community and strategic planning.

The city is required by the program to focus its immediate attention on a limited section of the community, or a district. The application’s steering committee, made up of business owners and citizens, chose to initially focus on Becker Avenue and one or two blocks north and south of Becker Avenue along Main Street.

“We need to make sure that the public and private sectors are working together and that there’s enough passion and concern and care about the historic areas of the downtown to bring it back, to bring it back to life — the vitality and vibrancy,” Williams said.

Mayor Ronnie Torres, Planning and Zoning Director Andrew DiCamillo and Greater Belen Economic Development Corporation Director Claudette Riley guided Belen’s MainStreet application through the process, with support from Sen. Michael Sanchez and the group of citizens who formed the steering committee.

“Some of us had humor, some of us had brains, some of us had personality, some of us had computer skills,” Torres said. “We were able to do it, not for us — we were able to do it for you guys. We’re very proud of it. I just think it’s cooler than heck that we’re a MainStreet community.”

The City of Belen has talked about becoming a part of MainStreet for years, and worked for the last two years to become a part of it, attending conferences, classes and other meetings, lobbying for support among state officials and finally submitting the application earlier this year.

Torres said the MainStreet program will add to redevelopment projects that have already been completed, including the Heart of Belen and Becker Street improvements.

“MainStreet is really the heart and soul of the community,” said Fred Mondragon, the secretary for the New Mexico Economic Development Department. “It’s preserving the downtown, preserving the historic areas of downtown, and improving them. It’s your door to the past, but it’s also a window into the future, where you can progress, where you can bring in businesses and create job opportunities.”

Mondragon encouraged Belen’s residents and businesses to get involved in the MainStreet program as it begins to develop locally.

Belen joins 20 other certified MainStreet communities across the state.