Carolina Journal News Reports
Roanoke Rapids officials agreed to an annual $1.5 million “artist fee,” plus a car, and home to entice Randy Parton to leave his Sevierville, TN, home pictured above.
RALEIGH — Entertainer Randy Parton, brother of country superstar Dolly Parton, says he will give his first performance at the new Randy Parton Theatre at Roanoke Rapids on July 26. City and state officials have a lot on the line: They provided 100 percent financing for the startup business venture and signed off on an annual $1.5 million “artist fee” for Parton, 53. Carolina Journal has found no evidence that Parton invested any money in the project.
Officials are betting on Parton’s ability to competently manage the theater, located just off Interstate 95 south of Roanoke Rapids, and attract enough customers to pay expenses. CJ can find no evidence that Parton has any experience managing a theater. Attempts to discuss the project with Parton or a representative were unsuccessful. Parton Theatre General Manager Mike Scott did not respond to phone messages.
On Feb. 6, State Treasurer Richard Moore and other members of the Local Government Commission gave final approval to Roanoke Rapids to borrow $21.5 million to finance the Randy Parton Theatre even though a feasibility study found that other attractions must first be in place for the theater to be viable. While one hotel is under construction, the 200,000 square feet of retail space referenced in the study has not been started.
CJ has been unable to determine whether Moore was aware of the conditions of the feasibility study or of Parton’s annual $1.5 million fee. Moore’s communication director Sara Lang ignored repeated requests from CJ to comment about the commission’s approval process.
According to a press release issued by the theater, Parton’s two-hour music variety show is scheduled to run every week Wednesday through Saturday. In addition to his own show, Parton will occasionally schedule other performers.
Parton needs customers from outside Halifax County if the theater is going to succeed. With a total population of 55,000, it would take only nine weeks for every county resident to see the show.
Parton took possession of the completed 35,000-square-foot, 1,500-seat theater in March. In May, theater officials said they were scheduling auditions for local musicians and singers. Since the theater was announced in 2005, supporters have promised it would offer “world-class” entertainment and become “the premier entertainment destination on the East Coast.”
The theater is planned to be the anchor of the 1,000-acre Carolina Crossroads entertainment and retail development. Carolina Crossroads has staged outdoor concerts at a nearby field being developed into an amphitheater. More outdoor concerts and events are scheduled for this year but those events are separate from the Parton Theatre.
A copy of an economic development agreement first obtained by CJ showed that Parton is to receive an annual $1.5 million artist fee, plus a free home and vehicle for three years. The home and car were provided by private entities. According to the terms of the agreement, at least $750,000 of Parton’s fee will come initially from money borrowed by the city.
The agreement was signed in June 2005 and involved four parties: Parton’s new company, Moonlight Bandit Productions; Roanoke Rapids; B & C Roanoke, a company affiliated with Georgia-based Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial; and Roanoke Rapids Entertainment One, a company controlled by Roanoke Rapids developer Michael Dunlow.
More than $5 million in other public funds have been appropriated for the project, including $500,000 by the General Assembly for marketing; $399,000 by the Golden LEAF Foundation for water and sewer; a $1 million Community Development Block Grant for water and sewer; a $500,000 Rural Economic Development Center grant for water and sewer; and $2.5 million in road improvements by the Department of Transportation.
Former Northeast Partnership CEO Rick Watson developed the concept for the theater and recruited Randy Parton to participate. The Partnership is a state-funded economic development agency that seeks to recruit businesses to a 16-county region that stretches from Halifax County to Dare County. Watson’s board of directors terminated him last year for working for Parton while still performing his state-funded economic development job. According to Roanoke Rapids Mayor Drewery Beale, “Parton severed all ties with Watson several months ago.”
Randy Parton background
Parton is from Sevierville, in Sevier County, Tenn. Pigeon Forge and the Dollywood theme park — owned partially by Dolly Parton — also are situated in Sevier County. While the Internet is filled with information about Dolly, little is publicly available about Randy. His old Web sites and his new one, rptheatre.com, say information about Randy is “coming soon.”
Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens told CJ that Randy Parton played there for several years. “He played in a 1,000-seat theater and primarily did the big closing show before he left for North Carolina,” Owens said. “It was a very successful show, based on our surveys of our guests.”
Sevier County public records show that the primary home for Parton and his wife Deb is a 1,200-square-foot house on a small lot. They initially acquired the home with the help of sister Dolly. The 2006 market value was $60,000. Randy Parton and his wife paid off the mortgage in 2005 after they received a $500,000 advance to come to Roanoke Rapids. The Partons also own three vacant lots acquired from other relatives.
Sevier County election officials told CJ that they have no record of Randy or Deb Parton ever registering to vote there.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.