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Leonel Castillo Community Center holds second monthly Mercado de Northside

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Artists from the neighborhood and towns as far as Seabrook  meet at the Mercado de Northside at Leonel Castillo Community Center July 18 2014
Artists from the neighborhood and towns as far as Seabrook meet at the Mercado de Northside at Leonel Castillo Community Center July 18 2014
Marc Pembroke
Abiola Wabara talks with visitors  at Northside Art Market July 18 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

On Friday, July 18, the recently renovated Leonel J. Castillo Community Center held its second monthly Mercado de Northside. Currently the Mercado (Spanish for market) is a craft fair showcasing arts, crafts, and business services. Most primarily were located in the near northside community, but artist Laura Lopez Cano came in from Seabrook. Italian-born Nigerian artist Abiola Wabara lived in Italy, played basketball in Israel, and published in Nigeria, in addition to majoring in Hispanic studies at Baylor. The fair was held in an indoor conference room because of a risk of thunderstorms. But the current form is only the beginning of a much larger vision for the activity scheduled for the third Friday of each month. According to Cynthia Reinoza, program director for the Community Center, plans are under way to include a farmer's market for produce grown in the local area, as well as outdoor food vendors. The Center is still in the finishing stages of construction, but when completed, there will be ample space for vendors and a stage for musicians and other programs. She also explained the Mercado in Spanish.

Rebecca Reyna, executive director of the Greater Northside Management District, which planned the program, stated that the fair can become a focal point for community redevelopment, encouraging new businesses with easy access from the freeway. The Center is near the confluence of I-45 and I-10 with ample free parking. It is also only a few blocks from the new Quit man Near Northside Metro Rail stop on the Red line.

The Leonel J. Community Center opened November 8, 2013 a few days after the death of Leonel J. Castillo, who was the first Hispanic member of Houston City Council elected in 1971. The building was formerly the Robert E. Lee Elementary School, located at 2102 South Street in the near Northside neighborhood. The renovation was promoted by Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Mormon with wide support from the community. The project was funded in part from a grant with federal funds from the General Land Office. The Current exterior renovations are expected to be completed before the next Mercado on August 15. The Center is one of many community centers operated by Neighborhood Centers, Inc.