ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — Roanoke Rapids is dropping its lawsuit against a Chicago businessman who has twice agreed to buy the troubled Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
Several years ago, Lafayette Gatling entered into a $12.5 lease-purchase agreement for the theater, but the city terminated it in 2010 when Gatling failed to pay more than $500,000 in back rent.
The city filed suit against Gatling and he countered with a lawsuit of his own.
Roanoke Rapids Mayor Emery Doughtie said the city has authorized its attorney to drop the lawsuit against Gatling. The move should help the city move forward with getting a contract signed to sell the theatre.
Roanoke Rapids agreed again in November to sell the music theater to Gatling for $7.1 million in cash.
Attorney H. Lawrence Armstrong said last month that Gatling is negotiating with developers to buy some land near the theater for projects that could include a water park, movie theater or restaurants.
Roanoke Rapids borrowed $21.5 million in 2005 to build the theater along Interstate 95 to attract tourists and help boost the economy. Local taxpayers are now paying nearly $2 million a year in borrowing and operating costs.
The city will still have to pay about $12 million on the property after the sale, but Doughtie has said the city would be able to refinance the remaining debt to make it more manageable.