Dollywood East: Roanoke Electric Co-Op Key Partner in New, N.C. Entertainment Complex

By Johnson, Steven | Rural Cooperatives, March-April 2006 | Go to article overview

Dollywood East: Roanoke Electric Co-Op Key Partner in New, N.C. Entertainment Complex


Johnson, Steven, Rural Cooperatives


Editor's note: This article is reprinted courtesy of "Electric Co-op Today, "published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Some information also supplied by Angela Perez of Roanoke Electric.

When it comes to rolling out the red carpet, Roanoke Electric Co-op is going to have a larger one than most. That's because the co-op is a key component in construction of a $129 million project to lure celebrities, dignitaries and thousands of tourists to Roanoke Rapids, N.C., located in the northeastern part of the state near the Virginia border.

Randy Parton, brother of music and movie star Dolly Parton, is spearheading construction of the Carolina Crossroads Music and Entertainment District on about 800 acres served by Rich-Square-based Roanoke Electric Co-op.

Upon completion, the endeavor should rival music-oriented attractions and theme parks such as Dollywood, Dolly Parton's Tennessee resort, and Branson, Mo., and give an economic lift to an area best known for tobacco and textiles.

"It's the biggest thing we've ever had here," said Curtis Wynn, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Roanoke Electric. "It's going to be a huge opportunity for our system to grow."

A study by a research center at the University of North Carolina estimated the entertainment district will generate 12,000 jobs, add $500 million to the regional economy and boost incomes by $204.7 million in the next 5 years.

Initial construction began in November, when workers broke ground on the 35,000-square-foot, 1,500-seat Randy Parton Theater, with an eye toward a spring 2007 opening. The Nov. 11 kickoff, which included Dolly Parton and a host of country music stars, brought an estimated 10,000 onlookers to the site.

"The economic impact of this project is staggering, and will be felt for generations to come," said Jack Runion, chairman of North Carolina's Northeast Partnership Inc., the group that was instrumental in attracting Parton to the area. "This is an amazing venture that's getting strong support from all sides. We're proud to have played a part in putting it all together."

Developer George Ragsdale, who is working with Parton, predicted the venture "will turn this area into the foremost entertainment destination on the eastern corridor."

Wynn said the co-op will provide electricity to the entertainment district, and also has assumed a key role as a liaison between contractors and the project.

"They want to involve as many local parties with construction as possible," he said. "Our role is to interface with contractors and developers that come in as work proceeds."

That responsibility is likely to include co-op-led training classes and information distribution about particular aspects of the development, he said.

Roanoke Electric's infrastructure should be adequate to power the first phase of the entertainment district, but construction of an additional substation is likely as the project grows, Wynn said.

Randy Parton's team selected the site after working with North Carolina's Northeast Partnership, a 16-county economic development organization. "Our territory is transforming from a rural agricultural area to more of a service and tourism environment, so this fits right in with that," Wynn said.

Other businesses are likely to locate near the district, with plans on board for some hotels and restaurants to accommodate the tourist load, Wynn said.

"We're positioning ourselves to work both on the electricity and economic development sides," he said. "This will be very significant for us."

Lori Medlin, executive director of the Halifax County Tourism Development Authority, said the development should boost the growing tourism industry. …

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