ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — A Myrtle Beach, S.C., management company will take over operations at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre, the city of Roanoke Rapids announced Thursday.
Gilmore Entertainment will assume responsibilities of management, show production, ticketing and operations of the $21.5 million, 1,500-seat entertainment complex along Interstate 95.
"We are excited about the possibilities that an organization such as Gilmore Entertainment brings to our project," Roanoke Rapids Mayor Drewery Beale said in a news release issued Thursday. "Their expertise and experience are well known throughout the entertainment industry."
The agreement, as stated in a letter of intent, has the city paying Gilmore Entertainment $500,000, Beale said.
Separate from the agreement, City Manager Phyllis Lee said, Carolina Crossroads developers have agreed to pay half of that for the first two years.
City leaders are hopeful the firm will start work within the next 60 days, once the contract is signed.
The year-old theater has been troubled in recent months by management.
In December, Roanoke Rapids officials cut ties with country music singer Randy Parton, the theater's former namesake, who was brought in to jump-start the operation, which was meant to boost the city's struggling economy.
Parton was stripped of his management duties and his salary slashed after the theater failed to meet projected revenue and attendance numbers. Accusations that he misused funds and appeared intoxicated before a show led the city to cut ties with him.
Boston-based UGL Unicco, brought in after Parton, terminated its management contract with Roanoke Rapids in February, claiming the city owed the firm more than $100,000.
Since then, the city has managed the theater independently. It has lost more than $1 million since then, including costs of buying out Parton's contract. Beale has said theater attendance has improved but till is not at an acceptable level.
"We've been beat to death over this theater," Beale said.
Gilmore Entertainment President David Olive said he feels the company can bring a lot to the table.
“We have seasoned production and management teams that are second to none and can move quickly and efficiently into all of those areas," he said. "We also have a whole lot of loyal fans who drive up and down I-95 regularly.”
The firm, which owns and operates the Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach, warned that boosting theater attendance and profits at the theater could be "an uphill battle that will not be won for several years" because there is not a major tourist destination surrounding it.
"Creating an audience for a theater so far from any urban area or other major tourist attractions is not something that can happen overnight," said Calvin Gilmore, the firm's chairman.
"We don’t have any silver bullets, but we are willing to step up and try to help them get it rolling," he continued.