Local News

Roanoke Rapids Theater sale becomes final

Posted March 2, 2009 12:16 p.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2009 6:45 p.m. EST

— The city on Monday signed over the $21.5 million Roanoke Rapids Theatre to Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling under a $12.5 million lease-buy agreement.

Under the agreement, Gatling takes control of the theater and makes monthly payments to the city until the price is paid in full.

The city, which initially borrowed $21.5 million to build the theater, will take a loss on the project and have to repay the remaining $9 million to Bank of America.

Built to anchor a planned entertainment complex along Interstate 95, the theater has been troubled since opening as The Randy Parton Theatre in 2007.

In December of that year, the city cut ties with Parton – an entertainer and brother of country music legend Dolly Parton – as its headlining act and theater manager because of poor ticket sales and controversies over spending.

Revenue remained low afterward, and the theater lost more than $1 million in the first quarter of 2008, including the costs of buying out Parton's contract.

The losses played a role in a 5-cent increase in the local property tax that city officials approved in July.

Mayor Drewery Beale said Monday that the financial troubles also are a factor in a projected $664,000 budget shortfall in fiscal year 2009.

But Beale said the theater isn't the only factor in the city's decision to lay off 10 city employees and require others to take anywhere from two to five days of unpaid leave.

The theater closed in July 2008 and reopened in December for a Gatling-produced Christmas show that nearly filled the 1,500-seat facility to capacity.

Gatling said Monday that he wants to see the facility succeed and wants to begin major renovations and expansion as soon as possible.

"I'm not focused on the past," he said. "I'm only focused on the future, what I can do with it and what we can do going forward."

Beale admitted to mistakes when it comes to the theater. The theater itself was not a mistake, the mayor said, but its timing might have been off. He hopes it will succeed under Gatling.

"Today means a new start," he said.