A familiar face from the past has now taken control of the future of The Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
Lafayette Gatling, who rented the theater from March 2009 until he was forced out for lack of rent payments in April of 2010, has entered into an agreement to purchase the facility from the city of Roanoke Rapids, easing the city’s debt burden and regaining control of a facility he has always maintained he wanted, even going so far as taking the city to court in October 2010 to try to get the venue back into his hands.
The terms of the deal have not been disclosed pending final signatures and final city council approval, which Mayor Emery Doughtie said will happen soon.
“It is our expectation that the necessary documents should be completed in the very near future,” Doughtie said. “Both parties are committed to executing the contract as soon as possible.”
Gatling’s purchase takes financial pressure off the city, which now will restructure the remaining debt associated with the theater into lower annual payments. According to city leaders, there will still be bond debt remaining after the sale, which will have to be addressed in the city’s upcoming budget.
Gatling’s proposed deal with the city requires full payment of the purchase price in cash before closing, according to city attorney Gilbert Chichester.
The city had been looking toward major budget cuts to pay the debt, somewhere between $1.7 and $2 million annually. With the theater reserve fund depleted, the city was in a position to have to budget for the full theater payment.
Doughtie and members of council had expressed concerns over where those cuts could be made and still maintain the quality of city services.
“The payments will be markedly reduced,” said Interim City Manager Ed Wyatt. “This will allow us to put our focus on providing general services to our residents in the very best manner.”