This spring, the city of Coppell will inaugurate a new arts center, naming one of the facility’s stages after a beloved arts leader and transforming the city into a hub for the arts community.
“I think when people think of Coppell, they’ll think of the arts,” Alex Hargis, Coppell Arts Center’s Managing Director, said. The city planned to celebrate the grand opening of the center on May 15, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, it has been postponed.
The arts center has been a dream of many citizens in Coppell. In 1999, the city converted a fire station into the Coppell Center for the Arts. That facility quickly became inadequate. “It’s a very old building. It’s one of the first fire stations in Coppell. There’s only so much room to expand,” Wheelice “Pete” Wilson, Jr. said. Wilson is a life-long Coppell resident and founder and president of Theatre Coppell.
Wilson was the driver of the discussions to build the new facility. In 2009, the arts center was included in the Coppell Vision 2030 strategic plan. “As the City grew, so did the desire for a larger arts venue. In 2015, we revisited the idea of constructing an arts center, and the City Council voted to begin preliminary program and site planning for either the existing theater’s renovation, renovation and expansion and an option for the construction of a new theater located in Old Town Coppell. From there, it was determined that we’d be better off constructing a new facility,” Karen Hunt, the mayor of Coppell, said.
Coppell Arts Center will be home to five resident companies: The Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Coppell Community Chorale, Coppell Creatives, Coppell Community Orchestra and Theatre Coppell. “It helps the local arts organizations exist, let alone grow,’ Wilson said. “We can now move into the future.”
In addition to a headlining performance by Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth and a concert by Rodney Adkins, the Center’s opening festivities will include performances from local arts groups and the five resident companies. “For them, it all about opportunity," Hargis said. “It is a fulfillment of a dream to have a place built just for them to share their art with the community.”
The 30,000-square-foot facility is designed to turn this suburban community into a magnet for arts activities in the growing North Texas area. The city hopes the facility will attract national touring companies and events ranging from intimate theatrical performances to corporate events. “We’ve learned Coppell citizens want that quality entertainment closer to home, whether it’s an elevated place for local groups or touring groups coming to the area,” Hargis said.
The arts center will be the anchor of Old Town Coppell. “Old Town Coppell is a community gathering space that perfectly marries Coppell’s rich history with our vision for the future. You can find pieces of historic Coppell in Old Town, but right next door you will find homes, modern shops and restaurants. This unique neighborhood feel really mirrored what we envisioned for the Arts Center. We wanted to combine the old and the new, the past and the future, the community and the region, inside and outside,” Hunt said.
Designed by Corgan Associates, Coppell Arts Center includes a 440-seat main hall, a 196-seat black box theater, a 2,000-square foot reception hall, a studio classroom and The Grove and Performance Plaza, an outdoor community space with views of Old Town Coppell. “There were a number of discussions about the design of the Center. The council encouraged involvement from our citizens, including local arts groups. The design is meant to embody a sense of transparency and connection to Old Town and mirror some of the architectural pieces found throughout Coppell. The concept chosen uses glass, steel and wood to create that sense of openness, light, warmth and connection to nature and the outside world,” Hunt said.
The black box theater will be named “The Wheelice Wilson, Jr. Theater.” The theater will be Theatre Coppell’s primary home within the facility. Wilson was surprised when he learned of the honor at an orchestra concert. Wilson explained the naming is important to his entire family who has been involved in the city’s historical conservation.
Coppell has been Wilson’s ideal home base. He attended University of North Texas and was active in Dallas Repertory Theatre, a defunct theater company based at NorthPark Center. He remembers being able to drive to Denton or NorthPark Center in 30 minutes. “There was never any reason to leave,” Wilson said.
The honor of having a theater named after him humbled Wilson. “I think I’ll have a lot to live up to,” Wilson said. “It’s a great honor.”
Learn more: https://www.coppellartscenter.org/