Revitalization focus of visit by MainStreet

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In an effort to help revitalize downtown Belen, a resource team from the New Mexico MainStreet Program recently visited the Hub City to see what's here and to offer their expertise and guidance for the future.

The two-day August assessment was filled with a driving tour of the Belen MainStreet Partnership district, which includes Main Street to First Street and Reinken Avenue to Baca.

The visit also included meeting with the local board and key project volunteers, and with different focus groups that involved municipal officials, economic positioning, design, promotion and organization.

At the end of the visit, tour and forums, the New Mexico MainStreet Program experts sat down with board members, volunteers and community leaders and presented their recommendations on the different areas of the program-driven strategy.

Rich Williams, director of the New Mexico MainStreet Program, said the visit was to help the local program transition from an emerging to a startup community, which the Belen MainStreet Partnership recently achieved.

The final goal, Williams said, is to reach a state-certified status.

"As we move into the startup process, we ratchet up the amount of resources and expectation, technical assistance and support that comes from a state program," Williams said. "A state program is a license and accredited program of the National Trust of Historical Preservation. The economic development department is the host, in this state, for the state coordinating program, which I am the director."

Williams said there are 2,000 communities in 42 states across the country in similar programs. They are all working, at different levels, in revitalizing and redeveloping their communities, believing in their historical and traditional assets that represent the initial founders of the communities.

"We all believe that those buildings and this district represent the heart, soul and mind of your community, no matter if you've been a fourth, tenth generation of this community or whether you're a new arrival of this community," he said. "You come for a reason, because there is something special and unique about your community. And each of our communities is different, and MainStreet supports that revitalization based on your unique history, heritage, culture — all those elements that make Belen what it is today."

Williams said the MainStreet four-point approach, organization development, design, economic positioning and promotion, is a strategy to do comprehensive downtown revitalization.

Some of the over-arching concerns Williams and other members of the team heard about during the visit that the larger community should address include the weak communication infrastructure within the city.

"A number of people came to us, saying that they weren't hearing what's going on the community. They weren't sure where to go," he said. "The radio station is gone.

"The newspaper comes out once a week. If you go to the city's website, there's no information about upcoming events. There's no place for community dialogue about what's going on between organization, agencies and institutions of your community. That's a major weakness"

Williams said they believe that's an important piece for discussion. He also commented that while there are some "great organizations," such as the MainStreet program, the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce and the fact that the economic development corporation is being set back up, the lack of communication is apparent.

He also said another concern is a lack of coordination of marketing and events. Williams hopes the chamber can take on this task, and will recommend that the chamber will be able to address this area.

He also said there should be one coordinating calendar so local events won't be held at the same time.

The third concern most people had was that there is a need for a collaborative economic development plan. Williams said the city's local economic development act has to be updated.

"You have organizations arising with different missions," Williams said. "You have the city taking an active role in economic development planning, you have a planning and zoning commission and you have a number of different entities with different roles not communicating.

"There is some collaboration going on, some partnerships, but there is not a clarity of roles in the work you're doing for economic development. One of the larger things you can do is produce that strategic economic development plan," he said. "This takes time. It's not an easy thing, and it's not something you're going to get done next month. It's probably going to be years' worth of work."

Williams said there isn't a "magic wand to turn around the downtown district," but with hard work, passion and leadership, the Belen MainStreet Partnership can build on what it currently has and enhance its visibility as a viable community.

For more information on Belen MainStreet Partnership, visit www.belenmainstreet.com.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.