Local News

Roanoke Rapids Leaders Defend Parton Theater Deal

Posted April 25, 2007 7:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2007 9:22 p.m. EDT

— Public money brought the Randy Parton Theater to Roanoke Rapids, but the promise of a picture-postcard entertainment destination is the source of great excitement and some skepticism.

The city's contract with Randy Parton shows the brother of country legend Dolly Parton stands to make millions over the life of the deal. Roanoke Rapids already has fronted him $500,000 as a loan. Roanoke Rapids leaders also borrowed more than $21 million to build the 1,500-seat building.

The contract, signed nearly two years ago, promises to pay Randy Parton an artist fee of $1.5 million per year to perform at and run the theater. Taxpayers are on the hook for the building, but city leaders argue that tickets will dictate whether Parton gets paid.

“The way the project is set up, the artist is paid for out of theater revenues generated from ticket sales and other revenues from the theater,” said Economic Development Director Rick Benton. “If the revenues aren't generated, the artist fees fall short.”

Should the theater struggle, Roanoke Rapids’ taxpayers could be called on to make up the difference. But Parton isn’t guaranteed to get paid unless fans show up.

Randy Parton didn't want to talk about the deal, which also includes a monthly house and car allowance paid for by private investors. He did allude to the excitement and anxiety he feels as he prepares to launch his show and lure more acts.

“I think the man is lucky to have somebody give him ($1.5 million) and an expense account and all that,” said longtime resident J.O. Pierce. “If it falls on taxpayers, I'm going to have more concerns.”

The Randy Parton Theater stands alone along I-95 in Halifax County. But local leaders see the dirt being turned around it as fertile economic ground. It's already spawned a Hilton Hotel under construction, a future billiards complex, more than 20 major retail commitments and summer outdoor concerts with Trace Adkins and Gretchen Wilson.

“The more people we have come, the more they are planning to come back. So, it’s very, very real,” said Elizabeth Branham with Carolina Crossroads Entertainment.

Mayor D.N. Beale said Roanoke Rapids can't sit on its hands. Reward only comes with risk.

“We had to do something,” Beale said. “We had to come up with something to do better for our citizens.”

Parton hopes to launch his show by mid- to late summer.