In 2005, while enjoying a successful ride as a headline performer at Dollywood, I was approached about the opportunity of a lifetime for any entertainer -- to star in my own show in a theater that bore my namesake in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. The concept of developing an entertainment district to help rejuvenate the struggling economy due to the loss of textile and manufacturing jobs was exciting to me. My wife Deb and I considered this a true blessing that we would have such an opportunity to help create something like this from the start.
For nearly three years, my wife Deb and I worked with the City in good faith to get the Randy Parton Theatre up and running. We had not operated any type of business in the Roanoke Rapids area before, so we followed recommendations from local political leaders to let their "experts" guide us through the process. We were given promises by these politicians, and relying on these promises, we uprooted our family and dedicated ourselves to making the theatre a success for the Roanoke Rapids community.
A Feasibility Study was prepared at the City's request in April of 2005. In order for the theatre to succeed, this Study noted that two hotels and at least another 200,000 square feet of retail and other types of entertainment businesses needed to be in place by the time the theatre opened. The City knew this in 2005, yet it finished building the theatre in the spring of 2007 without any hotels or any other businesses operating. The Study declared that if the theatre opened without these other major businesses being in place, theatre attendance could be significantly reduced.
At no time and in no Contract with the City, was I responsible for getting hotels or other businesses to come to Carolina Crossroads. Yet, the existence of these other businesses was critical for the theatre's success. But, when we were handed the keys to the theatre, nothing else was open at Carolina Crossroads and all responsibility and blame was passed on to us.
As part of our agreement with the City, a $3 million fund was set up to help with the development and operation of the theater and to pay upfront costs. Any money we received from this fund was used to develop and produce the shows we performed and also to pay start up and operational costs for the theatre. When we took the keys to the theatre, we assumed the responsibility to furnish, equip and decorate the building, which was an empty shell. The majority of those funds (approximately $1.5 million) were used for property still at the theatre such as fixtures and decorations, concession and gift shop areas, and staging and lighting. Another large chunk went back to the City for rent, and the City's Agreement also said this fund could be used to help pay my Artist Fee. While outfitting the theatre to be ready for opening day, we were also working to produce a state-of-the-art show. Utilizing our family's contacts and industry friends, we produced a first-class show that would normally take six to nine months and in excess of one million dollars. We did this in a time frame of three months and at little cost to the city.
The rent we paid was set at a price to cover the City's theatre debt. This not only included the construction cost (about $13 million), but also included this $3 million Reserve Fund. It also included another $5.5 million for a second reserve fund, insurance, contingencies and $785,000 to pay back the City for its "upfront" costs. We don't know what those upfront costs were and cannot account for trips by City Council and other officials, or other expenses that were paid for with these dollars because we were not consulted about them. The main point is the monthly rent we paid to the City - and we always made the rent payment when I was running the theatre - was calculated to pay the City back for the construction costs, the $3 million Reserve Fund and the other $5.5 million the City borrowed.
My objective and my agreement with the City was that I would do what I do; produce, stage and star in a great music variety show. I never wanted to personally manage the theatre, so I hired personnel I thought would be able to effectively do the job. Even with our own management team in place, the City was constantly involved with management decisions at the theatre. Looking back, we probably should not have hired this management team, but they were strongly endorsed to us by the City.
As we went through our fall schedule, the City approached me to change the terms of our Agreement. I agreed to these changes as I hoped they would enhance the theatre's chance to succeed. By consenting to these changes, I even agreed to reduce my Artist's Fees by two-thirds when we knew that attendance numbers would not yet allow us to reach a "break-even" standpoint. I did this while keeping in mind that the Feasibility Study commissioned by the City concluded the project would lose money the first year, even if two hotels and 200,000 square feet of other businesses were open at Carolina Crossroads when the theatre opened. Without these hotels and other businesses, the difficulty of our task greatly increased.
Bowing to pressure from the City to put UNICCO in as managers of the theatre, we struck yet another new deal - a Performance and Management Agreement. It was my strong desire to stay connected with the theater that I had committed my name to, and for it and Carolina Crossroads to succeed as an entertainment destination.
I did what I promised to do and I honored my contracts with the City. The quality of our "Little Bit of Life" and "Christmas" shows has never been questioned. The Parton name was used by the City. They came to me. I did not go looking for them. Yet, just four months after launching the show, I was escorted from the building with humiliating and embarrassing allegations of being intoxicated, which simply are not true. I was ready, willing and able to do the show that night.
The recent reports about the now "profitable" theatre and increased ticket sales haven't given credit to the holiday motor coach bookings or the "Gospel Extravaganza" show which our team secured months ago. A close look at the numbers shows paid attendance now at about the same level as when I was still performing, with the holiday season accounting for much of the December increase.
Where are we today? I truly want this theatre and this community to thrive, whether my name is on the building or not. Our family put too much into that building to feel otherwise. I am saddened, however, for what this project has personally cost me, my family and my career.
But, I'll repeat - I agreed to produce and stage a first-class country music show - and I did that. The other problems with the City and Carolina Crossroads hurt our chances to succeed at the theatre, but I wasn't the source of those problems. Prior to be shown the door on December 6, the City never wrote to me or my attorneys contending I had breached any of our contracts or had performed unprofessionally.
In closing, I sincerely hope this theatre and Carolina Crossroads are a huge success and help revive the economy in Roanoke Rapids and the rest of Northeastern North Carolina. I am proud of the small part I played in its beginning.
ABOUT RANDY PARTON: Entertainer Randy Parton is a 30-year entertainment industry veteran. He managed his own theatre show at Dollywood for two decades, has produced a number of music shows with industry partners stretching from Hollywood to Nashville, and has performed in a variety of music venues around the globe. Besides his role as a successful performer and producer, R. Parton has also held success as a songwriter, penning songs including "Cross my Heart" recorded by sister Dolly Parton, "Fragile" recorded by sister Stella Parton and "Waltz Across Texas" recorded by Mo Brady.