From this week's Exile column:
Blue Yodel No. 171
Randy Parton said it best the night he was told to leave his namesake theater. Speaking to a couple of reporters upon exit, Parton — brother o’ Dolly — noted that he’d fulfilled his obligations to the City Of Roanoke Rapids and then neatly summed up in a pissed-off-country-singer kind of way the state of what was once touted as Branson East.
“You see anything else out here?” he snarled.
Parton was, save a Tuesday Christmas show with Charlie Daniels, the only thing on the schedule in the only building in a complex meant to rescue another beleaguered mill town from economic gloom.
Now, thanks finally to the release of expense records, the taxpayers are learning a little more about what Mr. Parton did with his free time and the folks that cut the deal with him are shocked, shocked, that there was high living and tomfoolery afoot.
So they canned him and called him names. There will be lawsuits flying before long and my hunch is that “Take This Job and Shove It” got added to Parton’s set.
And while the city fathers will try to pass off some surprise at what was happening, this relationship was headed for a heartache from the beginning.
A look at Exit 171 on prestigious Interstate 95 where sits the Randy Parton Theater reveals exactly the kind of not much that the singer referred to. This may be an interstate exit ready to hit the big time, but not this year and not anytime soon. No, it is not yet, as one press release put it, a “music and entertainment venue that will become a nationally-recognized travel destination for our state.” No, for now this is another boondoggle you can pin at least in part on some star-struck local leaders, but mainly on this state’s provincial patchwork of economic development “partnerships” — a system that rewards the politically connected and well-heeled, but rarely dreams big for the rest of us. (One may recall that the Tall Ships fiasco in 2005 was championed by a similar regional partnership.)
There may be folks involved who really, truly believed that the first phase of the “quality, family entertainment venue” on Exit 171 would directly create 2,595 new jobs and millions in new revenue rolling into Halifax County, but it was clear that those folks, along with the people charged with its oversight and analysis, were not tethered to this earth.
In announcing the deal a couple of years ago, the state’s Northeast Regional Partnership noted that the project was supported by findings from a consultant and a study by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Center for Competitive Economies, which according to the partnership estimated the music theme park would have an overall economic impact to the state of more than $500 million and would lead to 12,250 jobs.
But when you’re filling the roles of both booster and oversight, it’s easy to make the numbers dance the way you want them. Until the state, which created these partnerships, steps in and reforms the structure, this won’t be the only blue yodel for the taxpayers.