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'A gift to the city'

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Belt was a beloved local figure, known for his big personality and dedication to revitalizing the Paseo Arts District. The area, once derelict and in danger of closing down, is now a thriving art community that has garnered national acclaim.

Jennifer Barron, Paseo Arts Association executive director, said the district owes much to Belt.

“Simply put, the Paseo Arts District would not exist without him,” she said. “The district was built in 1929, and by the ’60s and ’70s, it was known to be dangerous. Lots of storefronts were closed and abandoned.”

Diane Coady, who arrived to work for the Paseo Arts District in the 1990s, said that Belt saw the need to revive the struggling district.

“He saw how important the arts were,” Coady said. “He created a place where the arts could be seen, taught and felt.”

Belt had a background in acting and singing in his youth. Barron said his love of the arts spilled over into his everyday life.

“He had this big presence. He would sometimes sing a bit in board meetings!” she said with a laugh.

Barron called Belt a visionary for the work he did with local artists. It was his idea to paint the stucco buildings — originally white — the bright, distinctive colors they are today.

Thomas Batista, founder of the Paseo-based Batista School of Art, said that Belt’s influence was multifaceted, both philanthropic and personal.

“He supported the district economically, but there was a human side that went with it,” Batista said. “It was contrasting in many ways. He was always wearing a suit. He definitely had the demeanor of an attorney. But he was so incredibly humble and down-to-earth as well.”

Barron noted that Belt’s impact on the art community will be felt for a long time.

“He was not just someone who developed the area. He was a presence. He took pride in the appearance of the streets and the buildings,” she said. “It’s part of his legacy. Not just the buildings, but the community. We’re planning the 37th [Paseo] Arts Festival now. He was there for the first one. And the festivals will continue. It’s such a gift to the city.”

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at All Souls' Episcopal Church, 6400 N. Pennsylvania Ave.

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