MainStreet gets BNSF grant for tourism

The Belen MainStreet Partnership this week was awarded a $3,500 grant from Burlington Northern Santa Fe for tourism promotion.

The grant will be used to design, publish and distribute a brochure to promote railroad tourism throughout New Mexico. The brochure will be distributed to hotels, restaurants and tourism hotspots throughout the state.

Belen MainStreet has been working to create self-guided tours of New Mexico’s railroad history for several months, focusing on tours both by car and by rail.

The brochure will make special mention of Belen.

MainStreet gets state tourism grant

The Belen MainStreet Partnership has been awarded a $10,000 grant to promote tourism in Belen.

The New Mexico Tourism Department awarded the money to the MainStreet group after it submitted a proposal to promote tourism from Belen to Santa Fe using the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. The grant will involve cooperation between the various cities along the route.

The grant, part of the Cooperative Marketing Program, has a $10,000 match which has been fundraised from Belen and Santa Fe. Additional donations are expected.

The money will be used to set up tours, where vacationers from around the country will have the chance to see historic sites in Valencia County and eat at some of Belen’s best restaurants.

Schwarzenegger films ‘The Last Stand’

Former California governor and Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Belen during the month of November filing The Last Stand, a movie about a small bordertown sheriff who takes on drug kingpin who just escaped from FBI custody.

The Last Stand — a film that has brought Jaimie Alexander, Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman to Belen — is filming on Becker Avenue in downtown, where a set has been constructed.

The film has also brought a boost to local business, not only in cameo appearances by local businesses in the movie, but also in actual dollars that the film crew has spent on props and other local goods.

Belen builds Rail Runner pedestrian bridge

Bill Richardson

Gary L. J. Girón
Transportation Secretary

June 23, 2010


State and Local Officials Break Ground on Reinken Avenue ARRA Project in Belen

BELEN — Transportation Secretary Gary L. J. Girón was joined by state and local officials today as they broke ground on the Reinken Avenue project in Belen. The $2.4 million project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will include building a pedestrian overpass at the Belen Rail Runner Station. It is expected to be complete by this November.

“This project will provide safe and easy access into the heart of Belen,” said Transportation Secretary Girón. “We are grateful for the funds provided through the Recovery Act to complete this project and I anticipate that the construction of the new bridge will encourage Rail Runner riders to explore more of the city and spawn additional economic development in Belen.”

“This pedestrian overpass is both functional and esthetically pleasing,” said Dewey Cave, Interim Executive Director, Mid-Region Council of Governments. “This structure will serve as a new gateway to the city, letting arriving passengers know as soon as they get off the train that they have a connection to downtown.”

Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said, “The pedestrian bridge is a blessing for the City and could not have come at a more needed time for us and for the economics of the area. This bridge will allow people to come to Belen on the Rail Runner and access our downtown more easily and safely. We are thrilled it has been designed to give the city a monument while serving a genuine need and now with the swallows choosing the bridge to be their home we now understand just what a great blessing it is and will continue to be for all who visit and live here.”

In April, the Rio Metro Regional Transit District selected New Mexico-based Meridian Contracting as the contractor for the job, with New Mexico Department of Transportation District Three staff overseeing the project.

A ramp and stairs will lead directly from the Rail Runner station to the overpass, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross Reinken Avenue and access First or Second Street. The walkway will be lighted and be completely ADA accessible. Its design includes architectural features that reflect Belen’s history such as the nearby historic Harvey House, as well as some of the city’s more recent enhancements such as the Rail Runner station, the Becker Street streetscape improvements and the Gazebo by City Hall.

Belen’s MainStreet program gets official name

The Belen MainStreet program, which is advocating for downtown revitalization, today decided on an official name for itself: Belen MainStreet Partnership.

In May, Belen became a New Mexico MainStreet “Emerging Community,” which means local businesses, property owners and residents will begin to receive expert support from the state for their downtown revitalization efforts.

Today, the Belen MainStreet board finalized its articles of incorporation to become an incorporated nonprofit with the State of New Mexico. The paperwork includes the new name.

The founding board members listed in the soon-to-be-submitted articles of incorporation are: Claudette Riley of the Greater Belen Economic Development Corporation, Susannah Rodee of the art gallery Through the Flower, Aaron Silva of Elite Muscle Gym and Fitness Center, Ronnie Torres of Hair Innovations (who is also Belen’s mayor), David Blacher of the property company Blacher Family Holdings, Andrew DiCamillo of the City of Belen Planning and Zoning Department, Cindy Clark of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce and Jerah R. Cordova of the community group Our Tomorrow: For a Better Belen.

Their next task is to write the organization’s bylaws and continue forming focus area committees made up of citizens.

Udall visits Belen for MainStreet kickoff

United States Sen. Tom Udall visited Belen today to help kick off the New Mexico MainStreet program, an economic development effort lead by locals and supported by the state that’s seeking to revitalize downtown Belen.

Udall met with several business owners in the proposed MainStreet district — the physical area of focus for the local MainStreet program — including the owners of Elite Muscle, a gym and fitness center, Sheroz Jewelers, a jewelry retailer, and Through the Flower, an art gallery. He also discussed economic issues with Mayor Ronnie Torres and Claudette Riley, the executive director of the Greater Belen Economic Development Corporation.

Udall had lots of questions for everyone with whom he spoke, but offered few answers. He made no commitments of financial or political support and made no announcements. Udall’s staff who was present with him in Belen and was holding private meetings with citizens all morning, made it clear he was in town to listen, so he could understand what issues his constituents have been dealing with.

He asked questions about Belen’s history, the business environment, economic development efforts, and construction projects. Torres touted the Heart of Belen gazebo and triumph arch, as well as roadwork on Becker Avenue.

Last week, two MainStreet officials from Clovis explained during a public meeting how the MainStreet program has helped develop their downtown and to give Belen citizens ideas about how to move forward.

Robyne Beaubien from Clovis MainStreet said economic revitalization will be a slow process, with ups and downs. She expressed enthusiasm about the handful of “major projects” Clovis MainStreet has rolled out, including constructing pillars and a crosswalk welcoming visitors to downtown, painting rundown buildings, and hosting an annual wine and cheese event.

“Our group is definitely driven by our volunteers,” Beaubien said.

Clovis MainStreet first began as all organizations start — by getting the paperwork in order. But after that, they began to develop the program by seeking financial support from their city officials and defining their district.

“We also began by building relationships. I think that’s really key,” Beaubien said. “Not just people in leadership, but people on your committees, need to get to know your local — county or city — officials, as well as your state representatives and even those at the national level.”

Beaubien said Clovis MainStreet took about five years to get going, with little to no visible progress prior to that.

“We spent five years building a foundation, getting it financially secure,” she said.

The MainStreet program in Belen is off to a faster start, with the steering committee working to incorporate and build a board of directors. Program officials also see the open gesture of support from Udall as an early success. They are also heartened by the $3 million the city will receive for a pedestrian crossing from the Belen Rail Runner Express station to downtown Belen, which will be vital to moving leisure riders and tourists into downtown.

While Belen’s MainStreet program is in its early stages, the steering committee is now forming four committees made up of citizens who will work on everything from architecture to event promotion.

“The four-point approach that’s going to help us with our downtown revitalization is organization, promotion, economic positioning and design,” Riley explained, continuing, “We need to have committees in those four areas.”

Residents of Rio Communities and even one from Los Lunas have already offered their active support for the program, which shows the interest people across the county have in what’s happening in Belen.

“There’s something about thinking of a greater Belen area as a community, rather than just Belen as a city,” said George Moscona, president of the Rio Communities Association.

It’s official: Belen’s a MainStreet community

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.

Local wants a renovated, vibrant Central Hotel

The two-story Central Hotel is an eyesore on Belen’s historic Becker Avenue. The roof is caving in, windows are boarded up and the brick and cement are cracking to pieces.

What was once an historic hotel has been abandoned for years. But now Tom Greer, a local developer and investor, wants to buy it and turn it into a vibrant bed and breakfast.

“Without historic lodging or without that kind of draw in the historic area we get what I call drive-by tourism,'” Greer said. “They eat at McDonald’s, they fill up their tank, and they go on down the road because they don’t have a place to stay.”

He said people don’t stay long enough in Belen to allow themselves to discover gems like Pete’s Cafe or the Belen Art Gallery.

Just across the street from the Central Hotel is an example of his vision. Artists Judy Chicago and her husband Donald Woodman renovated the Belen Hotel, which is very similar in size to the Central Hotel, although Chicago and Woodman use their hotel as a private residence.

Several weeks ago, when MainStreet officials visited Becker Avenue, which is a part of the city’s proposed MainStreet district. The head of the program, Rich Williams, lamented the decay of the Central Hotel as “demolition by neglect.”

Williams and other officials say Belen doesn’t have much time to save it. While the owners of the hotel want a couple hundred thousand dollars for the structure, the cost to renovate it would be substantial. Greer said he will seek investors.

He is hoping, in time, he’ll have purchased the hotel and begun to restore it.

“It’s one of the few buildings that’s in the actual overlap of the quarter-mile circle for the Rail Runner and the historic district plan,” said Greer. “It’s an integral part of what we need to do. It’s an uphill battle in this economy, but it’s something we’re working on.”