Efforts to revitalize areas within Wichita’s North End neighborhood are moving forward.
A community-driven initiative examining how to turn the predominately Hispanic neighborhood into a vibrant cultural district has identified visions to further activate three sites: Nomar Plaza, Woodland Park, and the 21st and Market intersection.
Called Vamos Nomar, the initiative was spearheaded by four local nonprofits — Empower, the Wichita Foundation, the Kansas Health Foundation and United Way of the Plains — with the goal of uncovering a new neighborhood catalyst plan for the North End, including the well-known Nomar District along East 21st Street, roughly from the Little Arkansas River to Broadway Avenue.
“We’ve seen a lot of great things happen in downtown, Delano, College Hill or other areas of town. I think traditionally, people just feel left behind,” said Empower executive director Ariel Rodriguez.
The plans, outlined in a report published Thursday, include ideas for new shade trees, shared bike lanes, mobile pop-ups to fill vacant storefronts, a splash pad, and an outdoor stage and amphitheater.
“We talk about how the diversity landscape is going to be rapidly shifting toward a majority Hispanic, not only in Kansas but across the country, so how can we create a space where they feel like home, a space where they see their culture and they see their identity being reflected?” Rodriguez asked. “We kind of view this as a retention tool for Wichita.”
To complete the master plan, Vamos Nomar surveyed approximately 360 residents in the North End and engaged community members with a series of workshops, dinners and other activations to uncover what they’d like to see within the neighborhood.
Asked what the biggest takeaway from the experience was, Rodiguez said “just hearing the level of excitement, especially from neighbors in the community about the importance of these projects and to move it forward.”
For example, respondents were polled on things that would help North End residents find employment:
One respondent said: “We need more financial resources for the locally owned businesses to increase revenue, the economy and encourage new vendor participation.”
The half-mile stretch of 21st Street, a combination of commercial and residential properties, has frequent traffic accidents, narrow sidewalks and few trees, the report found. In fact, the area is considered a shade desert and is subject to extreme heat, according to a tree canopy map within the report.
“If you’re wanting people to hang out out there, or walk it or shop it or eat out, it totally changes the difference,” Rodriguez said. “That crazy little thing matters a lot, though.”
The visions for the three sites are broken down into five- and 10-year master plans.
The 10-year vision for Nomar Plaza, the site of many popular events such as the Nomar International Market, involves plans for a playground area, 100 planted trees, an outdoor stage and lawn, splash pad and food truck and picnic area.
Vamos Nomar also envisions introducing a network of vacant storefronts along 21st Street that can serve as mobile pop-ups for entrepreneurs and vendors to sell their products — providing important startup space for new businesses. The plan also adds new bike lanes, space for outdoor dining and extended sidewalks.
In the long-term vision for Woodland Park, Vamos Nomar recommends to build an amphitheater and soccer field, as well as extend the existing riverfront trail and a series of docks to improve access to the water.
Rodriguez said it will be a long process to move the plan forward, including working with local city officials and other supporters to “take this to the next level” — including identifying funding.
An international firm called Kounkuey Design Initiative, or KDI, was hired as a consultant to help with the Vamos Nomar project.
While Vamos Nomar makes recommendations for the three locations, it also acknowledges Empower’s plans to revitalize a cluster of three properties it owns along 21st Street: the historic Nomar Theater, the corner building to the north and the old Basham’s store. Rodriguez said the organization will continue raising money for the projects, with phase one construction likely starting sometime this summer to redevelop the Basham’s building into a commercial kitchen.
As part of the Vamos Nomar report, residents were surveyed on ideas for future uses for the theater, which was built in 1929. Food events and music performances were the most popular answer, followed by classes to learn to paint or play instruments.
Rodriguez said he hopes Empower’s plans for the three properties will serve as a catalyst for the rest of the Vamos Nomar master plan.
“We can take the little steps ourselves as an organization to make it a more walkable space, a green space,” he said. “We can easily add a whole bunch more trees or we can change the green space on our lot to show that and start kind of putting these actions in place on the small scale, so we can begin to tell the story of why these large-scale changes are needed.”
Read the full report online at vamosnomar.com.