The next Branson?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Is it possible that the home of &uot;Norma Rae&uot; will soon become among the popular points of destination for nationally renowned country, pop, beach and gospel music acts?

Will Roanoke Rapids become the next Branson, Missouri?

Local officials sure hope so.

Last week’s announcement of an entertainment district in this Halifax County town brings with it an endless stretch of possibilities – not just for those living west of the Roanoke River, but for the entire Roanoke-Chowan area as well as northeastern North Carolina.

Branson, in it’s pre-1900’s form, was a bump in the road as overland travelers made their way to free land in the Ozark Mountains. Now it’s the home of musical giants such as Kenny Rogers, Andy Williams, Mel Tillis and Mickey Gilley. It boasts of over 30 music theatres, two theme parks, three resort lakes, nine golf courses, 350 restaurants and over 23,000 lodging rooms.

What’s so unique about Branson is that it still remains off the beaten path. In other words, to get to Branson, you have to be going to Branson.

Not so for Roanoke Rapids, thanks to its locale off I-95 – that four-lane swath of concrete slicing through the east coast and connecting Maine with Florida.

Randy Parton, a country music performer in his own right who just happens to be the brother of megastar Dolly Parton, said it was the interstate corridor that attracted him to northeastern North Carolina. His vision includes music theaters, shopping outlets, motels/hotels and plenty of places to satisfy one’s appetite.

The plan, a $129 million investment, will mean jobs…plenty of jobs, about 2,700 to be exact and that’s just the tip of what could quite possibility become a mammoth employment-opportunity iceberg.

For proof of what could be, a separate group has already committed to construct a $14 million theater featuring sea exhibits and ocean-themed movies.

Additionally, it was mentioned at last week’s press conference that private investors in Parton’s project had been contacted about some economic opportunities, namely a shopping mall and an amusement park.

The time is now to hop onboard this bandwagon.

Northampton County officials should immediately begin brainstorming ideas of how they can court these expected droves of tourists to spend some time and money in their county. Lake Gaston is an easy sale, so county officials should put their efforts into marketing Northampton property off I-95 north of Roanoke Rapids.

Bertie and Hertford counties can also benefit with the right marketing strategies. Historic Hope Plantation and Historic Murfreesboro could be at ground zero of those plans, but the key is to get started now…don’t wait to see the bandwagon as it passes by.