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Theater burden back on Roanoke Rapids

Posted April 27, 2010

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— The mayor of Roanoke Rapids says the troubled theater planned to help boost the local economy is once again the city's responsibility, but residents shouldn't expect to pay any more for it.

"I feel confident in telling the citizens of Roanoke Rapids that we will not have a tax increase," Mayor Emery Doughtie said Tuesday.

Roanoke Rapids Theatre Theater burden back on Roanoke Rapids

The Roanoke Rapids City Council on Monday voted to end its contract with Roanoke Rapids Theatre's owner, Lafayette Gatling, because of $182,000 in late lease payments.

Gatling, who agreed last year to a $12.5 million lease-purchase plan, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"Right now, we don't feel like the direction the theater is going in is in our best interest," Doughtie said, adding that the city still has about $22 million in debt on the project.

It took out a $21.5 million loan in 2005 to build the 1,500-seat entertainment complex, which was expected to spur growth along Interstate 95 and to generate enough revenue to pay off the loan.

But poor ticket sales, management issues and the economy have kept the theater in the red, forcing local leaders to increase the local tax rate 5 cents to pay its bills.

The theater temporarily closed in the summer of 2008.

"I don't think there is any point on dwelling on whether it was a mistake," Doughtie said. "It's here we've got to pay for it, so we want to make it work."

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