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Chicago entrepreneur has big plans for Roanoke Rapids Theatre

Posted December 11, 2008

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— A Chicago entrepreneur and his wife say they know how to turn around the struggling Roanoke Rapids Theatre, once run by country star Dolly Parton's brother.

And the couple is putting up millions of their money to prove it.

"I would like to say to everybody out there in radio land and in television land that we are bringing one of the best here," Lafayette Gatling, a North Carolina native, said.

By January, the city of Roanoke Rapids plans to complete the sale of the theater to Gatling and his wife, Marguerite, for $12.5 million.

Gatling – who has overseen the development of shopping centers and a casino in Illinois – will face a challenge in turning around the $13.5 million, 1,500-seat theater along Interstate 95. The city invested $8 million more into getting the theater going.

Built to anchor a planned entertainment complex, the former Randy Parton Theatre lost its headliner and namesake last December amid allegations that Parton spent public funds at ABC stores and on trips to Las Vegas. Parton has denied any wrongdoing.

Ticket sales stayed low after Parton's departure, and since July, the theater has been closed.

But Gatling has signs of new life brewing at Roanoke Rapids Theatre: a truck making deliveries, a bus parked out front, a crew working on the grounds.

"I'm not focused on what happened in the past. I'm looking to the future," Gatling said.

And the future of the Roanoke Rapids Theatre is bright, Gatling says. He plans to showcase a variety of musical acts and to market to cities within driving distance.

To get those big acts regularly, Gatling wants to expand the theater and has entered negotiations with Carolina Crossroads developers to buy surrounding lots.

Development at the Carolina Crossroads entertainment complex surrounding the theater is sparse, but Gatling said he believes the complex can become a success.

"I felt like it was a great concept and that it would work, and I still feel, realize and know that it will work now," Gatling said.

30 Comments

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  • RowdyFriend Dec 12, 7:13 p.m.

    I'd go if they bring in actual artists, and not another weird variety show with celebrity impersonators and people Simon Cowell refers to as "cabaret acts". There's plenty of that to go around in Myrtle Beach, etc.

    Go ahead and spend big money for a big opening night act. Heck, Sir Elton John will play if the money's right. Throw in a shopping trip to the outlet stores in Smithfield, and he'll probably move here (he likes shopping). The point is, make a big splash and get the word out about Rockin' Roanoke Rapids.

  • haggis basher Dec 12, 4:16 p.m.

    "I wouldn't drive to Roanoke Rapids to see Jesus in concert."
    As an Atheist, I would! I don't think he had much of a singing voice but with a choir of Angels as backing singers and maybe the Devil on Fiddle it could be a pretty good night!

  • bandydoo2000 Dec 12, 3:45 p.m.

    I think he is right. The closest venues are in Raleigh, Richmond VA, Myrtle Beach, or Greensboro.

    If he puts on good shows, plays, live variety shows, gospel, beach music, rock, blues, country, adult contemporary, jazz, he will make money.

    There are no venues off of Interstate 95 and he will get all the Snow Birds if lodging is available.

    Plus, he will get residents from VA, NC. It will work.

    It will benefit the entire region by providing jobs.

  • ifcdirector Dec 11, 6:50 p.m.

    I am pretty sure he won't show up drunk, use the company funds to buy liquor, or have secret associations with state politicians (who seemingly are coated with many, many layers of democrat teflon) and all of that should go a long way to at least giving it a fighting chance. The lesson that Roanoke Rapids should learn, that this whole bailout, Hugo Chavez Marxist leaning country should learn, is that government has no business whatsoever engaging in or competing against private enterprise with the TAXPAYER's money.

  • vsusu2002 Dec 11, 6:03 p.m.

    Time will tell. I really believe that Mr. Gatling will succeed with the theatre. When it was opened a year ago, I thought a variety of performers (plays, jazz, country, r&b, gospel, rock etc.) was going to be there but that wasn't the case. Everyone does not like country music. So once I saw this happening, I knew that the place wasn't going to progress. The Centre at the Community college had more shows and drew a bigger crowd than Randy Parton Theatre. I hope that the theatre succeed and I hope Mr. Gatling brings diversity to the theatre.

  • watvr Dec 11, 5:57 p.m.

    "I wouldn't drive to Roanoke Rapids to see Jesus in concert."

    Hey Cap, from all of us located in and around Roanoke Rapids, thank you for not coming our way. You don't really sound like the type of person we want around here.

    Mr. Gatlin good luck and you have our support.

  • Heatherbrook Dec 11, 5:15 p.m.

    Facts are We will drive to see a good performance. Hopefully RR will be booming soon.

  • itsnews2me Dec 11, 5:00 p.m.

    If he could persuade Ralph's Barbecue to relocate to the theatre complex he might have half a chance. Lots of people will drive quite a ways to eat a Ralph's Barbecue now and then.

  • aanda8104 Dec 11, 4:49 p.m.

    If they could turn it into a theme park area like they had said years ago they were going to do I think that would work. Only time will tell.

  • SubwayScoundrel Dec 11, 4:44 p.m.

    The original idea was a good one if the right ideas are put in place. Too bad they were not. I would drive there for the right concert but not sure U2 or Coldplay will play there. But being on I-95 and a place to stop for people going North to South could be OK.

    I hope it succeeds and I am glad we don't have to listen to the RR city people blame everyone else..... but as Mr. Parton said (I paraphrase) "That smell you smell, is it the paper mill or the politics"

    I wish them luck.

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