Local News

Mayor: Things Getting Better at Roanoke Rapids Theatre

Posted April 21, 2008 7:24 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2008 9:49 p.m. EDT

— Attendance at Roanoke Rapids' city-owned theater is improving after a tumultuous first eight months that saw its headliner leave, its management switch hands twice, a federal investigation opened – and even its name changed.

Mayor Drewery Beale said he stops by the box office at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre every day to get a count of attendance.

"It's come a long way from where we started. You know, we had some tough bumps," Beale said.

The $21.5 million, 1,500-seat theater opened in July 2007 with country legend Dolly Parton's brother, Randy Parton, as its namesake, manager and headliner.

By November, a contract dispute and low attendance had prompted city leaders to replace Parton with a management firm. He performed his last concert at the theater in December, and the city bought out his contract in March.

Meanwhile, UGL Unnico backed out of managing the theater, saying the city owed it $113,00. The Federal Bureau of Investigation began an investigation into the taxpayer-funded deal that built the theater.

Since then, though, city leaders say the situation at the theater has improved, overseen by the city's economic-development manager, Rick Benton.

An aggressive marketing strategy has helped boost average theater attendance to its highest level yet – although officials could not say by how much. 

Managers estimated that about 500 people see each show. At that number, the theater is breaking even financially, Beale said.

"We've not yet reached the point we want to reach yet," Beale said.

Two sales representatives promote the theater within a 100-mile radius, including Raleigh, Durham and Richmond, Va.

Sales representative JoAnne Brown said they aim to draw in traffic from Interstate 95.

"Those bus tours that's coming down south, we need to stop those," Brown said.

City leaders hope that Crossroads Carolina, a retail complex for which they broke ground in January, will turn the theater into the center of an entertainment hub.

Shane Israel said he thinks that one day, business at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre will benefit the recreational-vehicle park behind the theater that he owns.

"It just take time," Israel said. "It takes time for things to come."