State News

Roanoke Rapids to sell theater to Chicago man

Posted October 29, 2008

— A Chicago businessman has gotten a green light to buy the troubled Roanoke Rapids Theater once run by country star Dolly Parton's brother.

On a 4-1 vote, the Roanoke Rapids City Council approved the sale of the theater for $12.5 million to North Carolina native Lafayette Gatling. Councilman Jon Baker was the lone dissenter.

Town officials were awaiting a $625,000 bond to secure the purchase and then would wait 10 days to give others a chance to make an offer before finalizing the contract with Gatling, City Manager Phyllis Lee.

The proposal calls for Gatling to make monthly payments to the city, which still owes $21.5 million for the project.

The theater was built to anchor a planned entertainment complex and named for its headliner, country music singer Randy Parton. But the city had a falling out with Parton amid slow ticket sales and accusations of misused funds. Parton has denied any wrongdoing.

Hugh Bazemore, chairman of a theater advisory committee, said the committee examined tax returns and financial statements of Gatling and his Chicago-area real estate development partners and his funeral parlor business.

Gatling Community Development Inc. officials told the council the company has developed 500 acres in Country Club Hills, Ill., with a Wal-Mart, three banks and a movie theater and other businesses. Gatling is planning a casino and an entertainment complex. On another site, Gatling's company is working on a shopping center with 140 stores and apartments for seniors.

Gatling told the newspaper that he can't say how soon he will have the theater open and development moving around the site off Interstate 95.

"It's all about business," he said. "It's hard to predict. I'm going to hit the ground running."

Mayor Drewery Beale said the city made mistakes in its past theater development as it tried to find economic opportunity after the city's textile base collapsed.

"We went so fast. Maybe we went too fast," he said.


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  • ccs1920 Oct 29, 2008

    Gov. Easley has to be involved in this somehow.

  • manofjustice Oct 29, 2008

    Tyler Perry could have his plays there and believe me it would draw an intense wicked crowd. Need Hip Hop and R&B shows. BET could have had its awards show there. Stuff like this will generate moolah. Nobody wants to hear sad country music all the time. Although I do like Tim McGraw, the dude that sings 5:00 somewhere and the dude that sang that island song with Uncle Kracka.

  • HangOn Oct 29, 2008

    Maybe if they had a show there that someone would actually want to see, they would sell some tickets.

  • we-r-just-human Oct 29, 2008

    I wish RR would build me a house... Buy it for half of the building cost... SWEET DEAL

  • Titus Pullo Oct 29, 2008

    Congress could bail out Roanoak Rapids. Seems to be the thing to do lately -- pay off idiots for stupid decisions.

  • photoz Oct 29, 2008

    Why would anyone in the RR area want to go to this place ever again?

    I laugh every time I drive by, which isn't often.

  • foetine Oct 29, 2008

    a few gallons of gas and a match would have been a better offer for the city.

  • Tal Chotali Oct 29, 2008

    Let some of the bright bulbs in the city of RR calculate what % of their "investment" has been lost. I'd take that percentage and reduce the pay, travel expenses, reimbursements and any other goodies that the city council pays itself by that amount for the next 10 years minimum. You will not get back much of the hard earned tax money that was wasted, but maybe by that symbolic gesture, the governing elite will be a tad more careful when they buy the next big "sure fire money maker" scheme.

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Oct 29, 2008

    Don't sell Mr. G short. The man knows how to think outside the box. I like what he has done in Chi town and with this kind of money on the line, he will do something good. Good luck mr. G.

  • weldinggirl87 Oct 29, 2008

    There is potential for the theatre, it just needs to be in the right hands. If they could get some decent music and other attractions around the area, it could be a good thing. There is nowhere nice to shop between Rocky Mount and Emporia, so why not Roanoke Rapids? Get a outlet mall, some other places like Bass Pro, some nice places to eat, and just expand expand expand. Who wants to travel to see a show when there's nothing else around to do?