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Roanoke Rapids lowers payments for theater's new owner

Posted March 26, 2010
Updated March 27, 2010

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— A Chicago businessman and the City of Roanoke Rapids agreed Friday to reduced debt payments for the performing arts center there.

Lafayette Gatling, a North Carolina native who has built a business empire on shopping centers, an Illinois casino and a chain of funeral homes, agreed to a $12.5 million lease-purchase plan for the Roanoke Rapids Theatre in 2009.

He is purchasing the property from the city, which took out a $21.5 million loan in 2005 to build the 1,500-seat entertainment complex. Officials expected the theater to spur growth along Interstate 95 and generate enough tax revenue to pay off the loan.

At the time, the city signed a deal with country music singer Randy Parton, brother of entertainer Dolly Parton, to run the theater and perform there.

When that relationship soured in 2008 and the national economic slump began, the theater dipped even further into red ink.

Gatling, who missed lease payments of about $98,000 per month in February and March, asked city leaders to temporarily reduce his payments. The city agreed, Mayor Emery Doughtie said Friday. Gatling’s next payment of $75,000 is due Monday.

Doughtie has said Roanoke Rapids might have to trim its municipal budget if the theater continues to struggle financially. He said $75,000 per month would keep the city from defaulting on its obligation to the bank.


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