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Search Is on Again for Roanoke Rapids Theater Manager

Posted February 13, 2008

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— Roanoke Rapids is again looking for new management at its troubled theater project after the City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to terminate its relationship with the current management company.

The city and Boston-based UGL Unicco had been in contract negotiations since November, but were unable to reach an agreement. Council members decided Tuesday in a closed meeting to serve Unicco with a 30-day notice to terminate its letter of intent.

Mayor Drewery Beale said the decision was "strictly dollars and cents."

"We weren't going to budge on our contract and probably just felt like Unicco would want to make some changes," Beale said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Reggie Baird, the only City Council member to oppose the decision, said Tuesday evening that he was resigning because of it.

Baird, who has served on the Council for 14 years, said Wednesday he believes the city "is going down the wrong path" when it decided to end the contract with Unicco.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the city credited the company for "stabilizing operations and programming" at The Roanoke Rapids Theatre after the city ousted Randy Parton as manager.

"The city and Unicco will continue to work together to ensure a seamless and positive transition as we move forward," the city said in the release.

The City Council is considering several options, City Manager Phyllis Lee said, including whether to hire a new management firm and the possibility of a city department's managing the theater at the Carolina Crossroads development site.

Beale also said Wednesday that several theater employees entered into non-compete contracts with Unicco, meaning that they cannot work with the theater without being in breach of their agreement.

City leaders hoped the $21.5 million entertainment complex would boost the local economy, but lower-than-projected attendance and revenue, along with accusations that Parton misused a reserve fund and appeared intoxicated before a show, led the city to cut ties with the country singer in December.

Under Unicco's direction, the theater made $17,000 profit from the end of November through the end of December, according to the financial records, though that derived partly from the city not paying itself rent that it would have expected from Parton.

"We feel like we've significantly improved the operations of the theater from where it was a mere 80 days ago when we started," Unicco's senior director for business development, Jim Craig, said.

Community activist Jim Garrett, who runs a community Web site where visitors have been critical of the theater, said the project has been troubled from its beginning.

"Unfortunately, I think we're all paying the price for it now," Garrett said. "I think it's hurt the reputation of Roanoke Rapids."

Beale admitted the project has been stressful at times, but said the City Council still believes in its success.

"If we're guilty of anything, all we're guilty of is trying to bring in jobs to the community," he said. "The City Council has worked hard on this. This project is going to be successful, and we're not going to close this theater."

33 Comments

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  • shine Feb 14, 2008

    First mistake...... Trying to throw to the press to kick Parton out.... Second mistake.... naming a company that they did not have a "solid" contract with, but were in negotiations trying to ressurect theirselves. Third mistake... Being "Starstruck" and thinking this was gonna go on with no more leadership and planning that they had. Fourth mistake.... With no planning - what are they going to do with it. Fifth mistake... You can't make a "sow's ear into a silk purse".

  • denverbob234 Feb 13, 2008

    I'll run the theatre and wont charge quite as much as Randy Parton did either.

  • itsnews2me Feb 13, 2008

    re: "Roanoke Rapids is again looking for new management at the troubled theater project of the same name..."

    May I suggest ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, or some other truckstop company

  • iamforjustice Feb 13, 2008

    Hokie, it is not about being a large city because Dollywood and Branson are small towns. It is all about promotion and management which neither has been the case in this situation. Are there hotel accomodations around? What other attractions are offered? If I come to Roanoke Rapids for a concert with my family until the show I would like to dine at a nice restaurant or some kind of family entertainment. What else does Roanoke Offer. Chuck E Cheese, House of Blues, Museums, indoor swimming pool, Six Flags over North Carolina would be nice also. May be a fast train to Raleigh. I am just pulling straws but this is what I would like.

  • VT1994Hokie Feb 13, 2008

    I've said it before. Who in their right mind could even think that something like this could ever work in such a remote area?

    It takes a a large city with great access to pull this off and draw crowds to visit. Charlotte, G'Boro, Winston-Salem would have been extremely better choices. What a waste of money and time.

  • beachboater Feb 13, 2008

    Last month it was what a great job Unico had done showing a profit, although it didn't include a probably substantial lease payment to the city. I'll bet the city leaders can show a bigger profit by managing it themselves and using town employees to run it. All expenses charged to the general fund. How can you lose money then?

    As to a non-compete, if the company leaves the area, there isn't anything to "not compete" against. Not legally enforceable. That's a non issue.

    This really does look like the old Boss Hog days now doesn't it.

  • That Is Logical Captain Feb 13, 2008

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. This theater has been nothing but a big "White Elephant" from the beginning. They keep pumping money into it and have nothing to show for their investment. Turn it into condos, will ya!!!

  • iamforjustice Feb 13, 2008

    I hear Mike Nifong is looking for a job. He should send in his resume.

  • hz5417 Feb 13, 2008

    To My Perogative: They will only hire your cousin if she is completely underqualified for the job and has no ethics. I'd tell her to stay where she is.

  • Run_Forrest_Run Feb 13, 2008

    My cousin lives in Nashville and currently works for Clint Black. She's been a promoter at Arista & Rose-Aycuff. She's got all kinds of connections & she'd do it. I think I'll let her know.

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