Local News

Roanoke Rapids could sell troubled theater

Posted July 29, 2008 12:27 p.m. EDT

— Roanoke Rapids might wash its hands of the former Randy Parton Theatre.

City officials confirm they have spoken with Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling about purchasing the embattled music theater.

Gatling owns a chain of funeral homes and real estate development projects and also performs in a gospel music group.

Roanoke Rapids spent about $21.5 million to build the theater, hoping it would be an entertainment destination and help the region's struggling economy. Randy Parton, the brother of country music star Dolly Parton, was brought in to perform at and manage the theater.

City officials cut ties with Parton in December and renamed the facility to the Roanoke Rapids Theatre after slow ticket sales and allegations of misused funds.

The theater lost more than $1 million in the first three months of this year, including the costs of buying Parton out of his contract. The losses played a role in a 5-cent increase to the local property tax rate that city officials recently approved.

Boston-based UGL Unicco, which brought in to manage the theater, terminated its 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.

Roanoke Rapids also has been in talks with Calvin Gilmore, the owner and operator of Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to take over management  of the theater.