Well before Coppell’s historic old town was decked with the boutique storefronts, townhomes and restaurants it is known for today, it housed a small rail depot in the mid-19th century and was known as the town of Gibbs.

“Where the farmers market is and the new [Coppell] Arts Center is going up, that was never anything but just a cotton field actually when I was a kid,” said Wheelice Wilson, president of the Coppell Historical Society, which has tracked the city’s early days, including its eventual name change to Coppell.

Fast forward to 2007, when plans for developing the area surfaced, Coppell City Council zoned 17 acres as historic and soon began approving overall site plans.

The city’s yearslong push to revamp its historic downtown district is now nearing completion with the $18 million Coppell Arts Center expected to open in May.

The center will centrally house five of the city’s arts organizations. It will also include a main hall, a black box theater and a reception hall and will cater to a variety of events, said Alex Hargis, Coppell Arts Center managing director.“This building will be a nice capstone to Coppell’s evolution in the last 20 years,” Hargis said. “It has become not only a great place to raise a family, but it has been a great melting pot of different diversities and cultures.”

The Coppell Chamber of Commerce, which is also housed in old town, sees the arts center as a chance to attract more visitors to shop and dine there.

“We’re very excited about the art center coming,” chamber President Ellie Braxton-Leveen said. “We really think it’s going to boost a lot of business for the old town area as well as Coppell as a whole.”

Development of the area

Part of the city’s efforts to build Old Town Coppell included relocating and refurbishing some of the historic structures to create a heritage park.

“The first thing that came in there was a windmill,” Wilson said. “Not too long after that, when the Minyard’s family corporation ... was going out of business, they wanted to donate a little store.”

The refurbished Minyard store and windmill now stand beside some of the older structures, such as the Kirkland House, which was built in 1904 and moved to its current location in 2011.

City Council approved an overall site plan for the old town area in 2010, according to city records. Soon after came the construction of the central square and playground area, rows of townhomes, new road construction, and the restaurant and retail storefronts.

“That full vision of [Old Town Coppell] was that you would have residential; you would have retail; and you’d have dining, and then you would have this nightlife entertainment component, so it was all self-sustaining,” Hargis said.

Michele Cramer relocated her business, Let It Shine Boutique, to Old Town Coppell in 2015 when she was referred by a friend to the area. She and other local business owners see the addition of the arts center as a chance to tap into a different client base.

“We will be starting our fifth year [in February],” Cramer said. “We are super pumped about the art center coming in. It definitely is going to bring ... a very eclectic mix of people down.”

Final leg of construction

When the arts center opens in May, it will include a 440-seat main hall, a 196-seat black box theater, an outdoor community stage and a sculpture garden.“It is a place for local art to be presented here to give [artists] a platform to grow,” Hargis said. “So you can see your local theater company ... and visual arts, but then also taking that downtown experience and bringing it right down the street.”

While the managers at the arts center work to bring in performers and visitors alike to old town, Braxton-Leveen said her primary goal is attracting weekday business travelers and corporate employees.

“They don’t know what restaurants are here,” Braxton-Leveen said about the shops and restaurants in the area. “They don’t know about the farmers market. ... We as a chamber are focusing more on the business side.”Hargis said the arts center’s uses will include food and drink tastings, weddings and free outdoor music events. In fact, the center was designed with providing space for multiple art mediums in mind.

“The big five as we call them are our resident companies,” Hargis said. “It includes Theatre Coppell, the Coppell Community Chorale, the Coppell Community Orchestra. You’ve got the Ballet Ensemble of Texas, and then you have Coppell Creatives, which is the visual art wing of the community.”

Wilson also serves as the president of the Coppell Arts Council, which is the organizational body behind the five resident groups. Wilson said he sees the construction of the new center as a pinnacle achievement.

“When we solidified the idea of a new arts center, it took on its own life,” he said. “It became a real arts center, you know, for visual arts, performing arts and even outside groups.”

Hargis emphasized that his team is working to ensure the arts center serves both as a local entertainment destination as well as an events space for those outside groups.

“It’s got to be a place for the fine arts, but then it also is like a commercial facility,” Hargis said. “We want to bring people together ... providing a place for the suburbs to come ... and enjoy entertainment and just redefining what people’s standards are, what local entertainment is.”