Roanoke Rapids, N.C. — The Roanoke Rapids City Council voted Monday to end its contract with the owner of its troubled music theater because of late lease payments.
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 last year to a $12.5 million lease-purchase plan for the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
Roanoke Rapids Mayor Emery Doughtie said Monday evening that Gatling owes $182,000 in back payments.
Gatling was 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, forcing Roanoke Rapids to increase local taxes to help pay the venue's bills.
No timetable was set for when Gatling must be out of the theater.
Doughtie said he hopes to start negotiations soon to keep some shows at the theater in the coming months.