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Troubled theater reopens to packed house

Posted December 19, 2008

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— More than 1,300 people packed the hall of the Roanoke Rapids Theatre for a Christmas performance Thursday night, filling the troubled entertainment venue to near capacity.

The $21.5 million theater has sat idle since July after a number of management issues, poor ticket sales and a contractual buyout of the theater's former namesake, country music singer Randy Parton.

"I'm glad to see the doors open again," Roanoke Rapids Mayor Drewery Beale said at Thursday's night's performance by the singing group Temptations Review. "It's been a long struggle."

Roanoke Rapids officials are now in contract negotiations with Chicago businessman and North Carolina native, Lafayette Gatling, who announced earlier this year his plans to buy the theater and expand it.

In October, the Roanoke City Council approved the sale of the theater for $12.5 million.

"We're not focusing on the negative," Gatling said at Thursday night's performance. "So, we're only concerned about the positive. Everything is positive going forward with this theater."

Gatling, who is expected to take ownership of the theater in 2009, said he anticipates having at least two shows a month and said that the 1,350 tickets sold confirm his desire to expand the 1,500-seat facility to at least 5,000 seats.

Built to anchor a planned entertainment complex along Interstate 95 in Roanoke Rapids, the theater lost Parton as its headlining act and manager last December because of lower-than-projected attendance and revenue as well as controversies over spending.

Ticket sales remained low after Parton's departure, and the theater lost more than $1 million in the first three months of 2008, including the costs of buying out Parton's contract.

The losses played a role in a 5-cent increase to the local property tax rate that city officials approved in July.

Boston-based UGL Unicco, which the city brought in to manage the theater after Parton, terminated its contract with Roanoke Rapids in February, claiming the city owed the firm more than $100,000.

The city then decided to manage the theater independently and eventually struck a deal with Gatling.

"I never lost faith in this place," Beale said, "even at the last show we had, when I went out on the stage and I told them that this was our last show but that we would return."

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  • NCSULandscaper Dec 19, 2008

    well the new owner has done something that no one else who handled that theater did, he got 1300 people to attend 1 show. Id say they are on the right track to success

  • ncweddingdj.com Dec 19, 2008

    The Temptions Review was the show. If a knock-off imitation Temps show did this, imagine seeing them in Raleigh in 1965---the real thing, David Ruffin and all. With the Supremes. It can work, with imagination and skill at the helm....

  • itsnews2me Dec 19, 2008

    "More than 1,300 people packed the hall of the Roanoke Rapids Theatre for a Christmas performance Thursday night..."

    Hmmm, wonder what "Christmas Performance" was playing? "'Twas The Night Before Foreclosure?""The Nutcase?""Miracle on I-95?""Yes, Virginia, There Is A Theater in Roanoke?"

  • Durham-Raleigh Dec 19, 2008

    The theater's doomed. Other management companies have been brought in and checked the situation out; they walked away. The numbers didn't work.

    If RR had a real newspaper capable of investigative journalism, or if the N&O wasn't busy laying all their journalists off, they'd do a public records request and find this out for themselves.

  • CestLaVie Dec 19, 2008

    dohicky: where 'ya been?

    Lottery money is for school CONSTRUCTION......not pencils, computers, construction paper......

  • whatelseisnew Dec 19, 2008

    The two sure things you can count on for people to do during tough economic times is to drink and smoke. The drinking generally leads to a population boom.

  • manofjustice Dec 19, 2008

    lol@bilybod.

  • billybob72 Dec 19, 2008

    manofjustice, its not just gambling, strippers, and booze.
    It gambling, strippers, and booze FOR EDUCATION.
    Do it for the children.

  • davidgnews Dec 19, 2008

    Legalized gambling, what a joke. A lottery and on a reservation where drinks can't be served.

    The lottery should be shut down and real gambling allowed in it's place. People that have the money will spend the money, instead of what you have now.

  • dohicky Dec 19, 2008

    Yeh, casinos and gambling - that will fix it all. Haven't figured out why the schools need money so badly when the lottery was supposed to take care of that problem.

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