Local News

Search Is on Again for Roanoke Rapids Theater Manager

Posted February 13, 2008 11:08 a.m. EST
Updated February 13, 2008 9:16 p.m. EST

— Roanoke Rapids is again looking for new management at its troubled theater project after the City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to terminate its relationship with the current management company.

The city and Boston-based UGL Unicco had been in contract negotiations since November, but were unable to reach an agreement. Council members decided Tuesday in a closed meeting to serve Unicco with a 30-day notice to terminate its letter of intent.

Mayor Drewery Beale said the decision was "strictly dollars and cents."

"We weren't going to budge on our contract and probably just felt like Unicco would want to make some changes," Beale said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Reggie Baird, the only City Council member to oppose the decision, said Tuesday evening that he was resigning because of it.

Baird, who has served on the Council for 14 years, said Wednesday he believes the city "is going down the wrong path" when it decided to end the contract with Unicco.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the city credited the company for "stabilizing operations and programming" at The Roanoke Rapids Theatre after the city ousted Randy Parton as manager.

"The city and Unicco will continue to work together to ensure a seamless and positive transition as we move forward," the city said in the release.

The City Council is considering several options, City Manager Phyllis Lee said, including whether to hire a new management firm and the possibility of a city department's managing the theater at the Carolina Crossroads development site.

Beale also said Wednesday that several theater employees entered into non-compete contracts with Unicco, meaning that they cannot work with the theater without being in breach of their agreement.

City leaders hoped the $21.5 million entertainment complex would boost the local economy, but lower-than-projected attendance and revenue, along with accusations that Parton misused a reserve fund and appeared intoxicated before a show, led the city to cut ties with the country singer in December.

Under Unicco's direction, the theater made $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 not paying itself rent that it would have expected from Parton.

"We feel like we've significantly improved the operations of the theater from where it was a mere 80 days ago when we started," Unicco's senior director for business development, Jim Craig, said.

Community activist Jim Garrett, who runs a community Web site where visitors have been critical of the theater, said the project has been troubled from its beginning.

"Unfortunately, I think we're all paying the price for it now," Garrett said. "I think it's hurt the reputation of Roanoke Rapids."

Beale admitted the project has been stressful at times, but said the City Council still believes in its success.

"If we're guilty of anything, all we're guilty of is trying to bring in jobs to the community," he said. "The City Council has worked hard on this. This project is going to be successful, and we're not going to close this theater."