Local News

Retail Development Aims to Be a Tourist Push for Roanoke Rapids Theatre

Posted January 23, 2008 8:08 p.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2008 9:07 p.m. EST

— After months of criticism surrounding the former Randy Parton Theatre, its future is beginning to look brighter.

The Carolina Crossroads project broke ground Wednesday. It will be the first retail development next to the theater and will include a restaurant and eight retail shops. City leaders hope the project will help attract more visitors to the theater.

"I think it sends a strong signal that we are headed in the right direction now,” Roanoke Rapids Mayor Drewery Beale said.

The last couple of months have embarrassed theater supporters.

In December, the city banned the theater's namesake, Randy Parton, from performing. A few weeks later, city leaders cut all ties with him, voting to pull his name off the building and rename it the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.

“It's been a trying time for us, but it's something that we've dealt with and we're dealing with it,” Beale said.

Boston-based UGL Unicco took over managing the theater Nov. 30. It made a profit of $17,000 from the end of November through the end of December, according to the financial records, though that derived partly from the city's not paying itself rent.

Parton originally managed the theater, but it had trouble generating revenue. City officials said that from July through September, the theater lost more than $1 million dollars under his leadership.

The city borrowed $21.5 million to build the 1,500-seat theater as part of an entertainment tourist hub off Interstate 95. A nearby hotel is nearly complete, but most of the surrounding land is empty.

While the Carolina Crossroads groundbreaking is a good sign that things are moving in a positive direction, leaders know it will take much more for the venture to be called a success.

“It's hard to recruit when you've got so much negative publicity coming out of one place,” Beale said.

The theater has more than a dozen new acts booked through May, and there are plans to host local talent competitions.