Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center Off to a Good Start

New university PAC hopes to attract acts trekking across the Southwest

  • by Dave Brooks
  • Published: December 7, 2011

On any given day, thousands of motorists pass down the 80-mile stretch of Texas State Highway 20, usually heading to or from New Mexico. The route is not only a popular stretch for interstate travel, it’s also a popular tour route for bands touring the southwest, a day's drive between Dallas and the college town of Las Cruces.

Les Crooks is hoping to capture some of that traffic for the city of Odessa, an oil town on a desert strip off Highway 20 in West Texas. As the manager of the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, which opened its doors with a sellout Rod Stewart concert on Nov. 1, Crooks said his building is perfectly located to capture tours coming from all over the country.

Owned by the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, the $81-million, 108,500-sq.-ft. performing arts center is anchored by an 1,800-seat, two balcony performance hall. A smaller theater, the Rea-Greathouse Hall, serves as a versatile recital and multiuse space that can accommodate groups of up to 200 for live performances, lectures, receptions and banquets. Hunt Construction was the lead contractor on the building, and Boora Architects from Portland designed the building. eTix is the ticketing company.

Money for the facility was first authorized by the Texas Legislature in May 2006, allocating $45 million for the project. The project was able to fundraise another $20 million from donors, and pull together an additional $14 million in state and university grants. Wagner Noël is named after its two biggest donors, Lissa and Cy Wagner of Midland, and the late W. D. Noël of Odessa. Together, the pair gave a combined gift of $10 million in 2007.

SMG was awarded the contract on Oct. 5, only 26 days before it opened. Crooks started Oct. 6 and is serving as interim general manager — before that he was at the Bank of Kentucky Center in Highland Heights. Wagner Noël is his fifth stop since he started with SMG in 1999.

“When we’re opening a new building with no one to run it, the questions typically are ‘Where’s Les?’ and ‘Is he working already?’"

Crooks is doing the bulk of the booking for the theater, along with his boss Bob Papke, SMG’s VP for Theaters. Papke negotiated the five-year contract for the facility after its former executive director Carol Roberts-Spence retired on Aug. 2.

Soft opening for the building was only six days after Crooks started, with a university speakers' event on Oct. 12 and a series of chamber music concerts to follow.

Crooks said the facility is designed to bring in big Broadway shows and is launching the Broadway in the Basin season in 2012 in partnership with Jam Theatricals. Shows include Stomp, Lord of the Dance and The Rat Pack is Back. America played the main theater on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and just wrapped Miracle on 34th Street on Saturday and Sunday. Dec. 26 is the Moscow Ballet, and comedian Gabriel Iglesias performs Jan. 26.

Interviewed for this article: Les Crooks, (432) 552-4430

  • by Dave Brooks
  • Published: December 7, 2011