Tar Heel Tattler - May 2006

Official gets boot for going country
By Frank Maley

Country singer Randy Parton has plans to turn Roanoke Rapids into an entertainment hub next year. Dolly’s brother is working on a project near Interstate 95 that includes a theater, stores, hotels, a convention center and aquarium in a town where the entertainment options don’t get much glitzier than CJ’s Bingo and Roanoke

Already, Carolina Crossroads Music & Entertainment District has helped produce excitement in the form of a minidrama that prematurely ended the tenure of one of the men who helped lure it to Roanoke Rapids. Rick Watson was CEO of the Northeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission, a public body that promotes the 16-county region, and of North Carolina’s Northeast Partnership Inc., a private nonprofit that does the commission’s bidding.

Watson told the nonprofit’s executive board in October that he planned to accept a position in early 2007 as an equity investor in a Parton company developing the Randy Parton Theater, the centerpiece of Carolina Crossroads. Until then, he would continue as CEO of the nonprofit and commission.

That didn’t sit well with the region’s county managers. They worried that Watson wouldn’t act in the Northeast’s best interest if, for example, it were trying to lure a competing entertainment complex. They urged the commission and nonprofit to start looking for a new CEO who would be barred from investing in its projects.

In February, Watson moved up his departure date to June 30, but the commission and partner-ship wouldn’t wait. On March 21, they terminated his contract, retroactive to March 1. By doing so, they have to pay him his full annual salary of $165,000 plus other compensation, for a total of $185,276.

By this time next year, if all goes as planned, the drama will be over, Watson’s replacement will be on the job, and the first phase of Carolina Crossroads will be built. It may not turn Roanoke Rapids into another Nashville, but project developers are not shy about comparing it to developments in Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “Carolina Crossroads,” its Web site says, “will be built around music and high-end shopping.”