Parton speaks out about theater controversy


Parton declined to blame anyone for the financial and attendance struggles at the theater in Roanoke Rapids, where officials borrowed $21.5 million to build a theater they hoped would help the struggling economy. Parton said the city could have helped by completing its plans to attract hotels and retails outlets to the site.

"I'm not blaming anybody. I'm getting quite a bit of it myself," Parton, wearing jeans and an open shirt with his hair in a ponytail, said at a news conference inside a Cary hotel. His attorney and managers stood nearby.

Celebrity acts, including his sister Dolly Parton, would have performed at the complex if he'd had more time to plan the shows, he said. But the project will succeed and would have succeeded with him there, said Parton, who has been banned indefinitely from performing at the theater.

Roanoke Rapids offered Patron a $1.5 million annual contract, housing and a car to move to the former mill town. They hoped his theater would attract visitors to the planned Carolina Crossroads entertainment complex, a largely undeveloped site off Interstate 95 near the Virginia border.

Parton said Friday the offer was "the opportunity of a lifetime." He said he uprooted his family and his quit job at Dollywood, an amusement park owned by his sister in Tennessee, to pursue it.

But less than five months after his first show, the city had a falling out with Parton.

Attendance at the theater never met expectations, and city officials in December released a report indicating Parton had spent more than $2.4 million of a $3 million reserve fund within two years -- some of it on Las Vegas destinations and at liquor stores.

Rick Watson, who worked with Parton to develop the project, said Friday that all the money was spent in accordance with their contract with the city.

The city re-negotiated Parton's contract in November to a five-year deal that paid him $250,000 annually to perform in 36 shows a year. A month later, city officials indefinitely banned him from performing following an incident in which they said he was drunk. Parton denied the allegation and hasn't performed at the theater since.

In January, the city changed the theater's name. City officials are now trying to recover the money promised in the latest Parton contract.

"His position would be that the city didn't do what it was supposed to do, but the city's position is that he didn't comply with the contract," said Johnny Loper, a Raleigh-based attorney representing the city in the contract dispute.

Parton said he is now unemployed but vowed "to land on my feet" somewhere in the entertainment industry. He declined to rule out the possibility of returning to Roanoke Rapids but indicated that the prospects don't look good.

"I don't want to be somewhere where I'm not wanted, not appreciated and not respected," he said.

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