The tower blends Spanish, Mexican, Moorish and even Asian influences.
The folks in north Wichita have been waiting—some patiently, some not—for something like the Nomar International project to actually materialize.
The distinctive signs, colorful Spanish revival-inspired tower, open market space, parking and streetscaping along 21st Street sure didn’t happen overnight.
According to Peter Salmeron, president of the nonprofit Nomar Community Development Corp., there were a dozen other plans that went nowhere over the years before this one got approved by the city in 2006. Then it took another five years of planning, funding and construction.
“You could say this has been going on since 1953,” Salmeron said.
Could it be a coincidence that the last decade was also the one that saw a 76 percent rise in Wichita’s Hispanic population, which now equals 15 percent of the total and makes them the city’s largest minority?
Salmeron didn’t want to tackle that topic for this article, preferring to concentrate instead on what officially opened to the public at the end of April. That’s understandable, as the project marks a vast improvement over what was in place previously and focuses attention on a vibrant part of the city.
“The idea is to create a destination, not only for Hispanics but for Wichitans as a whole,” Salmeron said. “People say, ‘Let’s go to Botanica, let’s go to the museums on the river.’ Now hopefully they’ll say, ‘Let’s go to Nomar.’”
Nomar takes its name from the architecturally significant Nomar movie theater—now closed—on North Market. It’s been used by some people as a name for the neighborhood, although not in the pervasive way people refer to College Hill or Riverside. The second part of the name—International—refers to Asian influence in the area, primarily in the form of restaurants, groceries and other businesses.
Organizers hope that Nomar becomes a destination for Hispanics and all Wichitans.
But Hispanic culture plays the biggest role in Nomar International, which makes sense from a historic and contemporary point of view. Immigrants from Mexico began moving into the area to work in its meat-packing plants and railroad operations in the early 1900s. “This is the only place they could live,” Salmeron said.
Although the Hispanic population has spread widely, Nomar still has the biggest concentration, with Hispanics comprising 43 percent of the neighborhood. 16 percent of its residents are foreign born.
“Historically, this is the place,” Salmeron said.
The centerpiece of the project is the plaza at 21st and Broadway, a spot where several nondescript retail businesses were formerly located. They’ve been cleared and the property turned into a large open plaza, anchored at one end by the tower (which also contains a small amount of office space for the CDC) and at the other by a tall sign with the Nomar logo.
Sonia Greteman of the Greteman Group, which worked on branding and marketing Nomar International for the city, said the tower—the most prominent element of the plaza—blends several influences.
“It has kind of a Moorish concept with Spanish, Mexican and even Asian,” she said. “It looks very international.”
The project also included parking across 21st Street, and elements of design from the plaza are carried west along 21st street in the form of signs, lights and other features. As Nomar boosters hoped, several businesses have also made improvements to their facades since the project started.
Nomar boosters hope the plaza will become a centerpiece for all sorts of community events, from public performances to private parties. The schedule for the first week in May includes Zumba on Thursday night and a Santana tribute band playing on Friday.
The next day, Nomar will launch its weekly market featuring food, crafts, clothing and other wares. There’s room for about 40 vendors. “It’s a whole revitalization,” Salmeron said. “We’re hoping people will travel down to visit some of these stores.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Greteman added. “I think it’s just really positive for the city to have that finally realized.”
Nomar International plaza 21st and Broadway: New plaza will feature a Saturday outdoor market, live music and other events and serve as a gateway to the neighborhood as a whole.
Nomar Theater 2041 N. Market: Many longtime Wichitans remember attending movies in this 1928 theater. Its design was the starting point for the Nomar International plaza tower. A nonprofit group is trying to reopen it.
Super Del Centro 1770 N. Broadway: Flagship store of local Mexican grocery chain. Huge meat counter—the fajita and short rib cuts are outstanding—and specialties like fresh nopales (cactus leaves).
El Paisa 2227 N. Arkansas: Started as a late-night takeout, today it’s a full-service restaurant with some of the best authentic Mexican food in town. Try the ceviche and tacos el pastor.
Palateria La Reyna 2925 N. Arkansas: In addition to good food, this place makes its own ice cream and ices in exotic flavors like coconut, mango and papaya. Look for the line out the door on warm summer nights.
Evergreen Park 25th and Arkansas: Well-used by neighborhood families, soccer and basketball players. Also houses Evergreen library branch.
Connie’s Mexican Cafe 2227 N. Broadway: City’s oldest full-service Mexican restaurant, a comfort food stop for many lifelong Wichitans, spruced up its facade as part of the neighborhood’s makeover.
Day of the Dead mural 25th and Arkansas: Colorful mural on northeast corner of 25th and Arkansas is worth a stop. Nomar CDC may try to incorporate something similar into the new plaza.
Thai Binh 1530 W. 21st St.: Wichita’s original Asian supermarket. Tons of fresh produce and fish (the latter flown in every Tuesday, “fish day”). It’s worth a trip just to view some of the exotic items in the refrigerator and freezer aisles.
El Mariachi 207 E. 21st St.: One of the best signs on a retail store in the city. Inside, find the colorful cowboy boots, suits and dresses featured in clothing stores throughout the neighborhood.
Street food northwest corner of Waco and 21st: Here there’s usually a guy selling chiles, pinon nuts and whatever produce is in season. Street vendors in other parts of the neighborhood sell everything from homemade tamales to tacos to delicious fruit cups (try them with hot sauce and chile powder like the locals).
For more info on Nomar International including vendor opportunities www.nomarcdc.com or call Anita Mendoza: 316.285.9433