State News

Roanoke Rapids Banks on Parton's Brother to Build Entertainment Hub

Posted July 26, 2007

— This border city is counting on the brother of country music superstar Dolly Parton and the theater in his name to build an entertainment destination.

Randy Parton, best known for riding the coattails of his sister and a handful of his own country songs that made the music charts, is the linchpin for Carolina Crossroads -- an entertainment hub that will feature live entertainment, retail shops and other prospective attractions.

The Randy Parton Theatre is the foundation. The city of Roanoke Rapids borrowed $21.5 million to build the venue, scheduled to open Thursday with a two-hour Parton show titled "A Little Bit of Life."

The city's contract also promises to pay Randy Parton an artist fee of $1.5 million per year to perform and run the theater. He also will receive a monthly house and car allowance paid for by private investors.

Although some are dubious about the official projection of 300,000 patrons in the first year, one of the people with the most to lose says Parton deserves much of the credit for what's happened so far.

"A lot of this development going up wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for Randy Parton," said Michael Dunlow, the lead developer for Carolina Crossroads. "People aren't giving Randy a chance."

Dunlow owns about 1,000 acres for the complex, including a field that has been converted to an outdoor venue where Willie Nelson will perform this year.

One reason for doubt is that Parton had his last hit was in 1983 when "A Stranger in Her Bed," reached No. 92 on the Billboard country charts. But he's the only name on the playbill through the end of 2007.

The project also hasn't come together as quickly as planned.

For example, the 40,000-square-foot theater, which seats 1,500, was supposed to open as early as March. And leaders at this city near the Virginia border wanted as much as 200,000 square feet of other amenities at Carolina Crossroads by now, according to the contract with the city, the developer and Parton.

But several restaurants are planned, as is a Fairfield Inn by Marriott. Professional pool player Jeanette Lee has said she will build a facility for billiards and comedy acts in 2008.

"We have to be patient," said Phyllis Lee, the city manager.

Consultant reports done for the city indicate that in 2011, when the first phase of Carolina Crossroads is complete, the city should have $257 million of investment, $50.7 million in payroll and 2,433 jobs.

And one indicator of change shows that Roanoke Rapids is developing. In the first six months of the year, building permits were approved for $29.3 million of new investment - close to the $32.4 million for all of last year.

But some still doubt that Parton has the celebrity needed to carry the theater. He played bass in his sister's band and appeared at Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee In 1981, two of his singles made the Top 30 Billboard country chart.

"You look at his numbers and see that he was never a country star," said Michael McCall, a writer/editor at the Country Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization. "He got a break and got a couple of things going but wasn't able to sustain a career from it. He's just not really been on the radar."


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  • rrnc at hotmail dot com Jul 27, 2007

    I went to the show last night and it was wonderful. I can't wait to go back. I think that Carolina Crossroads is really gonna work. So, as for everyone with negative comments, go and see the show before you insult it.

  • Gnathostomata Jul 27, 2007

    This area needs something besides restaurants and shopping to keep people employed and entertained. I have only heard good things about the artists that have performed so far, and from the notes posted here from people who have actually been to Carolina Crossroads. That things are going slower than anticipated, well, that happens in many start-from-the-ground businesses, given weather and supplies, so that is no biggy. And as for labelling Randy Parton "Dolly's brother", shame on that. He is a person in his own right that happens to have a very celebrated family member. Around here, say she is his sister, 'cause he is the one we recognize as our own Randy!!! May Carolina Crossroads prosper and increase. It is a beautiful part of North Carolina, and is in a good location for him to succeed. So to all naysayers; give it a chance. Those who say "it won't work" are the same ones who never venture anything for fear of not succeeding, which is probably why this is a first for the area.

  • davidpmcknight Jul 27, 2007

    Randy Parton may acquire plenty of musical coattails in his own right, given the chance to perform regularly for folks Down East at the Double R Ranch we know as the great town of Roanoke Rapids. The Partons are all very personable folks, and people will get to like the whole family because of their sincerity, talent, dedication and beilef in the legacy of country music.

    I can remember the thrill of signing on as a fiddle player to a USO tour of Germany by Stella Parton in the 1980s. Some folks were saying: "Oh, it's Dolly's sister Stella," but by the time she got halfway through her stage show, they realized Stella was a star too, and since then she has been the recipient of a long list of musical honors in Tennessee and elsewhere.

    So give Randy Parton a chance to see what he can do. There's no better place to play music and make new friends and neighbors than Eastern North Carolina. Good luck, RR Ranch!

    David Proctor McKnight--Durham

  • shine Jul 27, 2007

    mlipi - I am all for opportunity - but you hit the nail on the head. I don't want to sound critical but this entire thing has not gotten off the ground well at all.

    Maybe he needs to be Randy Parton the 'well known developer' rather than being characterized as riding on the sisters coat tails and the country song of 20 some odd years ago. It brings alot of negative position to the entire project.

    I know Roanoke Rapids needs an economic injection just like alot of North Carolina towns..... I just wonder if this is going to the BOOM everyone thinks.

    I hope it goes well.

  • FloydRTurbo Jul 26, 2007

    I'm all for any economic stimulus for distressed areas. I had personal interests in Kinston during the GTP debacle. All my "wishing" did not overcome the slicksters that drained that project dry. ..... If the good people of Halifax County want to create a tourist destination on I-95, more power to them. .... It worked for Dillon SC with South of The Border (all developed with PRIVATE funds of course!) ....... I already know the answer to this BUT what are Randy Parton's credentials to merit $1,000,000/year plus the other perks? His last name is Parton and he cut a record in 1982 .... and .... ???? Have the two local hucksters ever even been associated with anything similar ???? ..... Nope! Would any bank have loaned these guys $20,000,000 with such zero/minimal credibility ???? Why did Richard Moore loan them OUR $$$$ ?

  • CuriousT Jul 26, 2007

    Roanoke Rapids CAN BE a good destination place, if you know what you want to do. Granted, shopping is a little thin. (For shopping, I'd go to Smithfield.) BUT, if you like Rockfish (another name for trout, I believe), then it's a GREAT PLACE. You're hard pressed to find a lot of room on the river in the spring when rockfish are running. The people are friendly and the local food is delicious. They also have their own local Farmer's Market.

  • FlSunshine Jul 26, 2007

    They have already had several shows in the outdoor amphitheater including one with Big and Rich...these shows had big crowds...they are really doing some good stuff in the area...I agree it needs to be given a chance.

  • shenson1116 Jul 26, 2007

    Maybe they should relocate this "theme park" from Roanoke Rapids to the "Global Trans Park" down east. LOLOL!

  • Lulli Jul 26, 2007

    I just love for people who have never stepped on the premises of Crossroads in Roanoke Rapids to make comments they know nothing about! I have been to two concerts at Crossroads & I was really impressed! Give the guy a chance! What else does RR have? The cotton mill closed up. This venture has been a new awakening for RR & will give the town & surrounding area a chance to survive & prosper! I'm sure Randy Parton is very talented - it has to be in his genes! Let's just think positive & give him a chance to prove what he can do! No one has experience at anything at the BEGINNING! I hope this really gets off the ground & TAKES OFF!

  • Sidekick Jul 26, 2007

    It will take some time, but in a few years, this whole complex will be BIG! There was talk some years ago about a theme park coming to I-95/i-40 but never came about. This might be a better place now.