Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — State Treasurer Richard Moore’s staff told Roanoke Rapids officials in April 2005 that entertainer Randy Parton’s annual $1.5 million “artist fee” should be paid only after Parton’s company paid the monthly lease and operating expenses for the Randy Parton Theatre. Moore will not say why that requirement was dropped.
The city, which borrowed $21.5 million to build the theater, turned over the building in March of this year to Parton’s company, Moonlight Bandit Productions. The financing plan required the approval of the Local Government Commission, chaired by Moore and staffed by employees from Moore’s office.
“Payment priority needs to be (1) real property debt, (2) operating costs, (3) artist fees, (4) profit distribution. This will provide incentive for Company and their selected manager to make the theater operation profitable,” wrote Moore’s Director of Debt Management Tim Romocki to then City Manager Rick Benton in April 2005. (See entire letter in PDF.)
When the city, Parton, and private developers signed the final contract, labeled the Economic Development Agreement, on June 30, 2005, half of Parton’s fee had become the first payment priority. The agreement calls for Parton to get $750,000 a year, payable at $62,000 per month prior to paying any other bills. He gets the remaining $750,000 after paying the bills. Moore’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an explanation about the payment priority.
In an e-mail response to questions about the payment priority, City Manager Phyllis Lee replied: “These comments were based on very early discussions and suggested drafts. The final EDA was executed on June 30, 2005, and incorporated many changes based on comments from many persons. One change did address the order of priority, though not as fully as suggested by Mr. Romocki. The final EDA was included along with other financing materials provided to the LGC for their review. The LGC approved the financing in March 2006.“
Numerous efforts to talk with Parton about the theater have been unsuccessful. Janis O’Neill, a theater employee told CJ, “He does not wish to comment. He likes to do what he does best and that is to perform. He wants to move forward and make this theater a success.”
Parton’s first show with his band, the Moonlight Bandits, was held on July 26. He normally performs four two-hour shows per week. Parton has not scheduled any other performers for this year. Neither the city nor the theater will release attendance figures, but media reports and accounts from local citizens who have talked with CJ indicate attendance at the 1500-seat theater is significantly lower than expected.
The low attendance may soon cause financial challenges for the theater. The city set aside $3 million for the initial startup. As of Friday, all but $573,000 has been transferred to Parton’s company. Theater operations will soon be the only revenue available to pay the bills. If revenues do not cover expenses, the city will have to use property or sales taxes to make up the difference.
A feasibility study estimated that for a “stabilized” year of operation the theater would attract between 276,800 and 330,600 visitors. Based on the theater’s current scheduled of about 200 shows per year, that would require an average of at least 1,384 attendees per show.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that on Aug. 22, Parton performed for only 50 people. A CJ reporter attending the Aug. 30 show counted approximately 200 persons. At least 20 of those were state employees from the state welcome centers brought in as guests of the local tourism authority and attending for free.
Published ticket prices are from $25 to $35. In an effort to boost attendance the theater has recently offered several ticket deals. At the Aug. 24 Willie Nelson concert at the Carolina Crossroads outdoor theater Parton, who was not performing that night, announced from the stage that anyone who presented a ticket stub from the Nelson concert could get a Parton Theatre ticket for half-price.
The theater offered free tickets to all employees of the Halifax Regional Medical Center for the Aug. 29 show. Then on Sept. 4, the theater announced that the remainder of the month would be called “Community Appreciation Month,“ and “two for one” ticket prices would be available for tickets purchased at the theater box office.
“This is our way of saying thanks to the Roanoke Valley and all of North Carolina and Southern Virginia for supporting us during our first few weeks of opening,” said Parton in a press release. “Since we opened in July, those who have seen the show have been very complimentary. We’ve worked hard to blend humor and dancing with all genres of music from rock ‘n roll and country to classic hits and pop melodies,” Parton added.
Moore, a Democrat, formally announced in May that he would be a candidate for governor in 2008.
A group of Roanoke Rapids area residents held a fundraising reception for Moore on June 11 at the home of County Commissioner Gene Minton. Twenty-seven couples or individuals were listed at the top of an invitation to the event. Several listed on the invitation had close ties to the Parton Theatre project. Included were: City Councilman Jon Baker; Mayor Drewery Beale; developer Michael Dunlow; Mike and Cathy Scott who at the time worked for Parton; and State Rep. Michael Wray.
Moore’s campaign finance reports show that he brought in more than $27,000 from people affiliated with that event. The invitation implied that all persons listed on the invitation had committed between $500 and $2,000 to be “patrons,” “sponsors” or “hosts,” but 8 of the couples did not show up as contributors on Moore’s campaign finance reports.
One couple was Carolina Crossroads developer Michael Dunlow and his wife Ruth. Les Atkins, a spokesman for Dunlow, told CJ that Dunlow did agree to be listed as a sponsor but was unavailable to attend the event and did not make a contribution.
Roanoke Rapids City Councilman Jon Baker, State Rep. Michael Wray and their respective wives were also listed on the invitation, but not listed as contributors on Moore’s financial report. Minton told CJ that everyone listed agreed to have his or her name used. “We just tried to get a few people together. Some didn’t come and didn’t donate money,” he said.
Minton, a former mayor of Roanoke Rapids, said that his fundraising event for Moore was not connected with Moore’s approval of financing for the Randy Parton Theatre. “It never entered my mind. I have no connection with the theater,” he said.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.