A man who orchestrated a deal to build a $21.5 million theater in Roanoke Rapids has been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury.
Rick Watson, the former chief executive of a nonprofit economic development group, was later a business partner in what was once the Randy Parton Theatre. Watson's attorney, Wade Smith, told WRAL-TV on Thursday the subpoena doesn't specify why he must appear in court.
The theater has struggled financially since its 2007 opening, prompting city officials to boot country music singer Randy Parton – the brother of country star Dolly Parton – from its management and strip his name from the facility. It was later renamed the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
The venue was designed to be the cornerstone of an entertainment district that has not yet panned out. A lawsuit filed by a taxpayer advocacy group asks the theater's developers to repay the city, which borrowed $21.5 million for the project in the hopes it would help the area's struggling economy.
Watson left his economic development job with Northeast Partnership, an economic booster group for 13 eastern counties, to become a business partner with Parton in the theater. A state audit of Watson's actions determined that move presented a conflict of interest.
Watson told WRAL in February that he “never had any interest in Randy's company while I was at the Northeast Partnership.”
Watson said he intended to make money with Parton through promotion, performances and land deals, but the two split over business disagreements before the first show.
In its lawsuit, the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law seeks to have all contracts voided and is pressing for organizers to pay back startup and other costs. The lawsuit claims Parton, Watson and lawyer Earnest Pearson and their companies schemed to get the city to issue millions of dollars in bonds for construction and startup costs.