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Parton Says He Dedicated His Life to Theater Project

After months of criticism surrounding the theater that once bore his name, Randy Parton defended himself and said he didn't blame anyone for the project's failures.

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CARY, N.C. — At one time, country singer Randy Parton said he had the opportunity of a lifetime: a theater in Roanoke Rapids bearing his name, a headlining act and a management position.

By December, city leaders had taken it all away.

"I did what I was supposed to, and I did it well," Parton said at a news conference Friday in Cary, "and I honored my agreements completely."

Seeking to clear his name and his family's name, Parton, the younger brother of singer Dolly Parton, said he did everything in his power to help The Randy Parton Theatre succeed.

"For nearly three years, (my wife) Deb and I worked with the city to get the Parton Theatre up and running," Parton said. "We dedicated our lives to this project."

In 2005, Roanoke Rapids brought in Parton to help jump-start a $21.5 million, 1,500-seat entertainment complex along Interstate 95. The project is an effort to bring jobs to the area and to rejuvenate a struggling economy.

Two years later, the embattled theater was struggling with lower-than-projected attendance and revenue. City officials said that from July through September last year, the theater lost more than $1 million under his leadership.

City officials later stripped him of his management duties and slashed his salary from $1.5 million to $250,000. He has $1.25 million left on his disputed contract.

"We look forward to sitting down with the city and having some discussions and seeing if we can both reach a resolution that is satisfactory to Mr. Parton and certainly something that's going to be satisfactory to the city," Parton's attorney, Nick Ellis, said Friday.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity of sitting down with Mr. Parton and his representatives and trying to resolve this matter," Roanoke Rapids Mayor Drewery Beale said Friday.

Parton said the city was "constantly involved" with the management decisions, but he did not blame anybody for the failed project.

"I've been getting quite a bit of it myself, so, whoever deserves the blame will probably get it in the end," he said. "But I'm not blaming anybody."

Financial records show Parton spent part of a $3 million reserve fund – which taxpayers supplied – on alcohol, rent on an apartment and tickets to Las Vegas shows, among other things.

Rick Watson, Parton's former business partner, defended the expenses, calling them nominal and necessary for economic development.

"The monies that were spent were spent within the guidelines of the agreement in the contract that was with the city," Watson said. "They were nominal expenses, but they were spent certainly within the guidelines with the city."

As a taxpayer-funded economic developer, Watson initially approached Parton about the prospect of a theater in Roanoke Rapids. Watson has come under scrutiny because he later became Parton's business partner. Watson lost his job when state auditors cited a conflict of interest. Watson said the audit was wrong.

In December, city officials abruptly banned Parton from performing after they said he showed up drunk for a show, an allegation Parton denies.

"I think they wanted me to leave. Obviously, they did," he said. "And I guess that was their way of getting around it."

A few weeks later, city leaders cut all ties with Parton, voting to pull his name off the building and to rename it the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.

The theater, now managed by Boston-based UGL Unicco, made a $17,000 profit 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 that it would have expected from Parton.

"The recent reports about how the theater is now profitable really isn't the whole story," Parton said. "They aren't giving credit to us for the shows and tickets that were sold (in advance)."