Normandie Center about to undergo transformation

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New Normandie Center owners Brent and Kerrie DuPont plan to transform the property at Central and Woodlawn into an updated neighborhood center. Renovations will include new facades with stone and wood accents that create what architect Mike Seiwert calls an “urban chic.”

New Normandie Center owners Brent and Kerrie DuPont plan to transform the property at Central and Woodlawn into an updated neighborhood center. Renovations will include new facades with stone and wood accents that create what architect Mike Seiwert calls an “urban chic.”

Courtesy illustration

In 1965, back when parts of Rock Road were a mere two lanes and not even paved, a new shopping center opened at what mostly had been a large field at Central and Woodlawn.

Normandie Center, which is on the northeast corner, quickly became one of Wichita’s premier shopping centers with popular businesses such as Gessler Drug store, Georgie Porgie Pancake Shoppe and Lancer’s.

Through the years, though, the center has become dilapidated and has struggled to keep tenants.

New owners Brent and Kerrie DuPont want to change that through substantial renovations and a new, vibrant mix of tenants.

“There’s been a lot more demand than I would have ever thought,” Brent DuPont said.

He’s already signed a deal with Sebastian Gordon, who has been a minority partner in Dempsey’s Burger Pub, to open a new restaurant called Red Bird.

Several more deals are in the works.

“We want to try to stay local,” DuPont said. “That’s important to us.”

He grew up near Normandie and remembers visiting regularly.

“It’s just where you went,” DuPont said. “It’s where a lot of things were happening.”

The DuPonts are real estate investors and have properties all over the country.

After selling a number of apartments in the last year, they needed to reinvest.

“My wife said, ‘Why don’t we look for something in Wichita so you’ll have something to do?’ ” DuPont said.

He said they’re used to buying distressed properties and creating new value, and they liked the idea of doing it in their hometown at a place that’s meant so much to so many Wichitans.

“It was a big deal in the day when the Vickers family developed it.”

‘Urban chic’

Architect Mike Seiwert, who used to visit Normandie in high school in the late 1960s, is helping the DuPonts transform the center with what he calls an “urban chic” look with “a lot of masonry, a lot of stone, some wood accents and really opening up storefronts with a lot of glass.”

He said the modern materials “are a lot more green than traditional building materials.”

Prior to the DuPonts’ purchase of Normandie, there had already been a bit of new activity there.

Lane Enterprises demolished a longtime building in the middle of the parking lot for a new, double-lane drive-through McDonald’s.

Also, some of the original canopies lining storefronts were replaced with new ones.

Seiwert said when Normandie originally was designed, it had the concept of a continuous canopy so shoppers could stroll under it out of the sun or rain and look at what stores had to offer.

“That’s not really the way people shop anymore,” he said.

These days, of course, people pull up to the front doors of where they’re going, shop and then get back in their cars.

To catch their eyes better, Seiwert and the DuPonts are “increasing the heights of the storefronts dramatically to help in that visual cue of retailing,” Seiwert said. “So people can look in the windows a lot easier.”

A neighborhood center

Though Normandie once was one of the city’s main shopping centers, these days Brent DuPont said it’s more of a neighborhood center, which is why he wants to diversify the tenant mix and help people be able to take care of lot of shopping needs at once.

To that end, there’s going to be a bit of tenant shuffling with some moving and some leaving.

Il Primo Espresso Caffe will remain in its end spot along Woodlawn along with NuWay next door and Yokohama Ramen Izakaya next to that.

Two longtime businesses have to go. Dee Clark’s barber shop already has closed, and her husband Richard Clark’s Advanced Shoe Repair will be leaving. The building where they’ve been will be reconfigured and likely enlarged.

“We were going to do a little easy transition,” Richard Clark said of them both moving to a new site, “and that deal fell through.”

He said that “it’s been a total bummer.”

They’re still looking for new space. The shoe store has to be gone by June 30. Clark said the DuPonts gave him a two-month extension from their original date of April 30.

River City Sweet Shop also is leaving.

Marilyn Ramsey said she decided her shop couldn’t weather the renovation period.

Her last day in business will be July 31. She has an auction scheduled for Aug. 9, but Ramsey said she’s still hoping something will work out for her to open elsewhere.

“I’m going to try really hard to stay open.”

Ramsey said she doesn’t blame the DuPonts.

“They’re very, very kind.”

Even though she’s leaving, Ramsey said she’s looking forward to the renovations.

“It’s going to be amazing.”

‘I want to be a part of this’

Sebastian Gordon went on a quest to create what he calls the perfect Cuban sandwich a couple of years ago. Once he found it, he said his wife suggested, “Why don’t you just do this for a living?”

He set out to find a good lunch spot, but nothing was quite right.

“We’d kind of just given up.”

Then Stephanie Wise of Street Commercial said she had one more property that he had to see.

Gordon checked out Normandie and learned of the DuPonts’ plans. They’re “doing something really interesting over there,” he said.

“I really want to be a part of this. . . . It’s going to be beautiful.”

Wise and Street Commercial president Evan LaRue are handling leasing at the center.

LaRue represented the DuPonts in their purchase of the center, and Don Piros and Scott Harper of Landmark Commercial Real Estate represented the out-of-state seller.

Gordon’s concept for Red Bird changed due to how the center will change.

“This is too perfect not to have a dinner crowd and a really nice night life for the area.”

The restaurant will be in just over 2,700 square feet to the east of Yokohama and will have a patio out front.

Gordon said he’s been a big advocate of craft beer, but he’s going to bring more of a focus on natural wines and craft cocktails.

For sandwiches on the menu, he said it all starts with the bread, whether its bread he makes or sources from places such as Bagatelle Bakery.

Gordon hopes to open late this year, but construction may force him to wait till early next year.

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A search for the perfect Cuban sandwich eventually prompted Sebastian Gordon to start a new restaurant, Red Bird, which will open at Normandie Center once renovations to his space are complete. Courtesy photo

The Red Bird name is something of a homage to his mother, the late Jeanne Gordon, who used to have bird feeders all over their house while he was growing up.

She used to tell her son, “If you see a cardinal, you’re going to have a lucky day.”

“There’s something really special about them to me,” Sebastian Gordon said.

When he helped open Dempsey’s at Clifton Square, Gordon said, “I really wanted Dempsey’s to be something that made the area better.”

He said he wants to do the same thing at Normandie.

“Let’s just make a place for people living around here.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for more than three decades, including almost 20 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.

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