There's not much there now but dirt and a chain-link fence, but by May of next year, 21st Street between Market and Broadway will be transformed, leaders hope, into an international marketplace.
Leaders broke ground Friday at the Nomar International Marketplace, a project to spruce up and encourage development of a historic area north of the city's core.
The marketplace has been a dream for many for a long time. Anita Mendoza, president of the Nomar Community Development Corporation, said a plan the city approved in September was the 13th such plan since 1958.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer echoed the long path that led to Friday's groundbreaking in his remarks under a tent at 21st and Broadway.
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"This is a historic milestone for the city of Wichita and this community," he said. "I know many of you have been waiting a long time for this moment. Is that right?"
The crowd concurred.
One of those waiting a long time is Cirilo Arteaga, whose parents came to Wichita, he said, in 1918.
Leaders acknowledged Arteaga for his commitment to the area. He responded by charmingly removing his hat, tipping it and saying, "Thank you, thank you."
The area, which dates to the 1880s, will become a place that "will reflect different cultures, making it a unique place to enjoy," Brewer said.
City Council member Janet Miller began her remarks with a jolly "What a beautiful day in the neighborhood."
She credited her predecessor on the council, Sharon Fearey, for her work turning the project into reality.
What is scheduled to open in May will become "what many of you have dreamed for for decades," Miller said.
"Only one year from today, we will stand at a place of grand transformation," she said.
In addition to a plaza that leaders hope will bustle with food markets, entertainment and shopping, the area will get a new transit center as well as new sidewalks, signs, lighting, landscaping, benches and intersections. Efforts also are under way to restore the historic Nomar Theater, Miller said.
The project budget, funded in part by an economic development initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is $750,000, a news release from the city said. That covers the building, plaza and streetscaping. The market also will have office space.
The project should spur private development, Miller said.
The market is scheduled to be open Saturdays and Sundays starting May 29, Mendoza said. The market's season will run through October.
Carlos Contreras, who serves on the Nomar board, said he thinks of the project as a beacon of light.
"Today we are constructing what I am calling a lighthouse," he said, a safe haven that will celebrate all cultures.