The potential buyers of The Roanoke Rapids Theatre don’t yet officially own the venue, but that isn’t stopping them from making plans.
Wednesday, Roanoke Rapids Mayor Emery Doughtie, along with City Manager Joseph Scherer and Councilman Wayne Smith, made the journey to Raleigh to meet with buyers Thomas and Evon McLean at the offices of public relations firm French West Vaughan to hear what the potential new owners have in store for the theater’s future.
Jack Glasure, senior vice president and co-founding member for French West Vaughan, announced the theater would be getting a new name and a new website, but will save those announcements for the July 23 closing date for the sale.
“We will be keeping Roanoke Rapids in the new name,” Glasure said. “Because we feel it’s vitally important to the theater’s future. Right now we look at Roanoke Rapids as a black dot on a map, but we want to make it into a red star.”
Glasure said the prospective buyers, who have not only teamed with French West Vaughan but also have hired East Coast Entertainment for securing acts for the venue, envision the theater as a way to make Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County into entertainment destinations, and the closing date, July 23, was just the start.
The following day, July 24, the new owners would officially take control of the facility. By July 30, staff will be in place for daily operations.
Aug. 10 will be something of a launching pad date, as the new owners will open ticket sales for all events through the fall. Those acts will include Motown, country, comedy, “cirque-type” performances, tribute bands and community events.
The following week, the new owners will hold a job fair for the facility.
“The job market now is very different than it was in January and February of this year,” Glasure said. “It’s a tighter job market, and it will be interesting to see who’s excited about working in the entertainment industry.”
The new owners plan to hold a soft opening Sept. 15, featuring a piano bar and acoustic entertainment. The first live performance will follow Sept. 21, and though the act could not yet be announced due to contractual issues, the initial plan is for Friday and Saturday night performances and a possible Saturday matinee.
“This will be heavily advertised beginning in mid-August,” Glasure said.
The plan sets Nov. 10 for the grand opening, with festivities centered around Veterans Day, with a “prominent, national country music artist,” Glasure said, headlining.
French West Vaughan, a firm with 20 years experience with 850 awards to its name, is also moving forward with social media campaigns, billboarding, copy and artwork and other marketing measures to promote all the activity going on at the venue in the coming months.
Glasure also indicated the new owners were discussing the idea of opening up the theater to bands touring up and down Interstate 95 to stop in, stay at the Hilton Garden Inn as their guest, and use the facility for rehearsal.
Beau Petty, son of Evon McLean and the man who has spearheaded the deal, said he believes the entire area around Exit 171 can be successful, and he’s excited moving the facility into a new future.
“All our efforts are about making this piece of property a success,” Petty said. “Success begets success. It’s a spectacular piece of property, and it would be great to see businesses complementary to the theater have success out there, and to have the theater be a complement to their business.”
Potential owner Thomas McLean said it was Petty’s idea to initially pursue purchasing the theater.
“He found out it was a possibility to buy this theater,” McLean said. “He realized the untapped potential, and we decided to pursue it. I think the entire area has great potential and I think we can help Roanoke Rapids and all of Halifax County.”
Potential co-owner Evon McLean said she was eager to begin showing the community what could be done with the building.
“We are excited to help the community,” Evon McLean said. “I think this is going to be beneficial to everyone.”
Petty added city officials have been more than helpful throughout the process, and the city’s top elected leader is pleased to see the finish line to the deal in sight.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed with gratitude,” Doughtie said. “Over the years we’ve seen several people who have come and said they could help us with the theater. None of them rose to the level we’re seeing here. For the first time in my time as mayor, I’m excited about the things that could happen out there at the theater.”
Glasure said the theater will be more than just a showplace, and expects activity six to seven days a week once things are up to speed. He added the potential owners see the chance to make the theater into a real destination for a variety of activities, and said there is real responsibility in owning such a facility.
“We’ve all got to make sure we are keeping the promises we’re making to consumers,” Glasure said. “We are now the front door to the city and to the county.”