Roanoke Rapids, N.C. — 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.