Do we have a happy ending for Nashville‘s iconic Exit/In?
If you’ve been following the story, you’ll remember that the building housing the historic menu was put up for sale back in February. The owner of the venue, Chris Cobb, then made an unsuccessful attempt to bid on the building to preserve the historic Exit/In.
Then, he started a GoFundMe in an attempt to raise even more money to buy the building from new owners, AJ Capital Partners. Also known as Adventurous Journey, LLC, AJ Capital Partners is best known for its chain of Graduate Hotels across the country, and the fear was that the Exit/In could be demolished and a hotel could be erected in its place.
Cobb raised over $215,000 in a week to add to his offer to buy the property, which he says will be donated to the National Independent Venue Association and the Music Venue Alliance – Nashville.
Well finally we’re hearing from the new owners of the property, and they’re promising that they have no intentions of demolishing the Exit/In and intend to preserve the iconic music venue, even offering to refund donors who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign.
In a lengthy statement from AJ Capital Partners, founder Ben Weprin also claims that their first action as owners of the venue will be to work to get the Exit/In added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Confidentiality was waived this afternoon, so we are now able to speak to the community about our plan for preserving Nashville’s beloved EXIT/IN, which was always our intent for the iconic music venue (the intent was never a hotel or any other use for the space).
Our goal and company mission statement is to conserve and preserve while maintaining the health and vibrancy of the communities we invest in. The EXIT/IN is no exception. In fact, the artist community was first to put the need for iconic venue preservation and assistance on our radar.
Those conversations are also driving our first action as owners: to add the EXIT/IN to the National Register of Historic Places, so that nobody can ever alter or change the space, as it belongs to Music City.
We realize that the delay in our ability to respond has led to dollars spent by hardworking folks, and that’s why we’d like to refund all donations made on behalf of the EXIT/IN, so donors can redirect that money toward other worthy causes. Donors are invited to send a copy of their original donation receipt to the Preserve EXIT/IN GoFundMe to [email protected]
As incoming stewards, we thank you for your passion and commitment to this great city. We look forward to seeing the return of live music to its stage.”
So that’s good news, right?
Well, Cobb is still pressing forward with his plan to attempt to buy the venue himself, stating that he hopes the owners of AJ Capital Partners are now ready to accept their offer to buy the Exit/In and keep the venue in the hands of the people who have made it what it’s already become.
In a statement that doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that Cobb is still skeptical of the new owners (and given the history of these huge developers in Nashville, he’s probably right to be), Cobb stated that “learning to own and operate a small independent venue is a monumental undertaking, especially for a company best known for building luxury developments.”
He also said that he hopes AJ accepts his offer so that the Exit/In “can continue to nurture Nashville’s creative working class and not become another playground for the elite,” and expressing some cynicism behind the motive to refund donations to his GoFundMe campaign.
“We’re thrilled Ben agrees Exit/In must be preserved. We’ve reached out previously to no avail, but hope he’s now ready to accept our offer to purchase the building and make a profit from selling it to us.
A legendary place like this — and what makes it beloved by passionate people on both sides of the stage — is our people. Exit/In has been our family’s home for 17 years and we can tell you the magic of the Exit/In cannot be bought or sold in a real estate transaction. It’s created by the people.
Learning to own and operate a small independent venue is a monumental undertaking, especially for a company best known for building luxury developments. We invite Ben to accept our offer so Exit/In can continue to nurture Nashville creative working class and not become another playground for the elite.
The offer to reimburse donors to our campaign is interesting, but we know Nashville’s music community can’t be bought.
We’re also glad Ben wants to see live music on Exit/In’s stage. We’re not aware that he has seen a show here, but welcome him in to experience the magic of the place. We’re more committed than ever to protecting Nashville’s creative working class — it’s who we are!”
Local government leaders who had rallied to save the Exit/In also expressed some cautious optimism at the announcement from AJ, while also expressing support for Cobb’s pursuit to buy the venue. Metro Nashville City Council member Jeff Syracuse said in a statement:
“I’m grateful to hear AJ Capital Partners wants to preserve the building that Exit / In has operated out of for the last 50 years.
However, placing it on the National Historic Register does not provide any protection from alterations, only a Metro Historic Overlay can do that. Also, it needs to stay in the hands of Chris Cobb who has spent many years preserving and advancing the locally independent operation that has given countless up-and-coming artists for half a century an opportunity to hone and build their careers.
Any change to the character both interior and exterior damages a critical part of Nashville’s ecosystem that is unlike any other.”
So what does all this mean for the Exit/In? Well, it’s too early to tell right now, because it seems there are clearly some differences between the two sides that need to be worked out.
But it’s still good news for Nashville that, at least for now, it doesn’t look the Exit/In is in danger of being turned into a high-rise.