Local News

Roanoke Rapids regains control of troubled theater

Posted August 31, 2010 2:25 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2010 3:21 p.m. EDT

— Roanoke Rapids will regain control of a troubled multimillion-dollar music theater on Wednesday morning, following an order issued Tuesday by a Superior Court judge.

Judge Cy Grant ordered that L&M Hospitality LLC, which last year agreed to a lease-purchase plan to take over the Roanoke Rapids Theatre, turn over all keys, access codes and personal property related to the theater to city officials by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The $21.5 million, 1,500-seat Roanoke Rapids Theatre was expected to spur growth along Interstate 95 and to generate enough revenue to pay off a $21.5 million loan the city borrowed.

But poor ticket sales, management issues and the economy have kept the theater in the red, forcing local leaders to increase the local tax rate last year by 5 cents to pay its bills.

Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling, who operates L&M Hospitality, reached a deal last year to buy the venue for $12.5 million, which was supposed to help Roanoke Rapids erase debt incurred from the project.

The Roanoke Rapids City Council terminated the deal in April because Gatling was falling behind on his lease payments, and the city sued L&M Hospitality in June to evict Gatling and regain control of the music theater.

Gatling owes $530,000 in back rent, according to city officials.

"This order is a good result for the city and now allows us to move forward with concluding the lawsuit (and), more importantly, to move forward with revitalizing the theater itself," Mayor Emery Doughtie said in a statement. "We hope to have activity in the theater in the next 30 to 60 days."

City Manager Paul Sabiston said officials would find another firm to run the theater at least on a temporary basis.

"We believe it is important to try to bring back quality performances to the theater as soon as possible and do that in a professional manner that can give the public some confidence in the theater operations,” Sabiston said in a statement.