State News

Roanoke Rapids to sell theater to Chicago man

Posted October 29, 2008 8:42 a.m. EDT
Updated October 29, 2008 11:20 a.m. EDT

— A Chicago businessman has gotten a green light to buy the troubled Roanoke Rapids Theater once run by country star Dolly Parton's brother.

On a 4-1 vote, the Roanoke Rapids City Council approved the sale of the theater for $12.5 million to North Carolina native Lafayette Gatling. Councilman Jon Baker was the lone dissenter.

Town officials were awaiting a $625,000 bond to secure the purchase and then would wait 10 days to give others a chance to make an offer before finalizing the contract with Gatling, City Manager Phyllis Lee.

The proposal calls for Gatling to make monthly payments to the city, which still owes $21.5 million for the project.

The theater was built to anchor a planned entertainment complex and named for its headliner, country music singer Randy Parton. But the city had a falling out with Parton amid slow ticket sales and accusations of misused funds. Parton has denied any wrongdoing.

Hugh Bazemore, chairman of a theater advisory committee, said the committee examined tax returns and financial statements of Gatling and his Chicago-area real estate development partners and his funeral parlor business.

Gatling Community Development Inc. officials told the council the company has developed 500 acres in Country Club Hills, Ill., with a Wal-Mart, three banks and a movie theater and other businesses. Gatling is planning a casino and an entertainment complex. On another site, Gatling's company is working on a shopping center with 140 stores and apartments for seniors.

Gatling told the newspaper that he can't say how soon he will have the theater open and development moving around the site off Interstate 95.

"It's all about business," he said. "It's hard to predict. I'm going to hit the ground running."

Mayor Drewery Beale said the city made mistakes in its past theater development as it tried to find economic opportunity after the city's textile base collapsed.

"We went so fast. Maybe we went too fast," he said.