Exit/In, Nashville’s oldest rock and roll club, is under contract to be sold to AJ Capital Partners, the developer behind the Graduate Hotel chain and other tourist-focused projects in Nashville.
Terms of the deal were not immediately clear. Multiple sources confirmed the contract to the Tennessee Lookout, which first reported last month the property was up for sale.
Exit/In turns 50 in 2021 and the Metro Historic Commission approved a historic marker in front of the building last year. The club is operated by Chris Cobb and Telisha Cobb, who partnered with the development firm Grubb Properties in the hopes of purchasing the property. The Cobbs also own the bar next door Hurry Back, which is included in the same parcel under contract to be sold.
Tim Ryan, chief financial officer for Graduate Hotels, said no comment when asked to confirm the sale on March 1. Ryan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Chris Cobb said they would still like to purchase the property from AJ Capital Partners, indicating that the situation is still fluid.
The sale of Exit/In comes at a breaking point for the Rock Block – the stretch of Elliston Place that is also home to the End rock club across the street – and for independent music venues in Nashville.
In the last year, prominent developer Tony Giarratana purchased Elliston Soda Shop, one of Nashville’s oldest restaurants, moved the operation next door and gave it a shiny face lift. Giarranta plans to redevelop a section of the Rock Block with condos while maintaining retail at the street level.
Also last year, a developer sought a zoning variance in order to tear down historic apartment buildings and to build a Holiday Inn Express their place. The variance request was to build less parking garage spaces than the zoning required, but the Board of Zoning Appeals said no and the project never advanced.
Chris Cobb told the Tennessee Lookout that his partnership with Grubb Properties actually offered the asking price of the two families that own the property.
The Cobbs are asking AJ Capital Partners to re-sell the property to them. The property is co-owned by two families, the Nash familiy, including Russ, Tony and Cheryl Nash and the Anthony family, led by Sharon Anthony. The families’ real estate firm Southeast Venture said no comment last week.
“We’re told the money was the same and (the Nash and Anthony families’) decision was based on a grudge held over the Save the Rock Block campaign, which successfully prevented a budget hotel development,” Chris Cobb said. “We’ve asked the firm that won the bid to sell us the property, so we can preserve Exit/In and ensure its able to continue serving Nashville’s creative working class. Contributions to our purchase fund can be made here: https://gofund.me/c3f1e2e2. Should our bid fail, all money raised will be donated to the National Independent Venue Association and Music Venue Alliance Nashville.”
News of the sale generated an immediate social media backlash. Nashville singer-songwriter Margo Price tweeted, “this is terrible news. hold on exit/in we need u.”
Like all music venues, Exit/In and the End have been shuttered due to public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cobbs played a leading role in organizing both Nashville venues, and music venues across the country, to lobby for government aid to music venues.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Metro Council dedicated funds for independent venues to cover a few months of expenses, and the Save Our Stages Act committed billions of dollars to music venues as part of the stimulus plan passed at the end of President Donald Trump’s tenure.
But even if the independent venues survive the pandemic, they’ll be re-entering a Nashville live music marketplace undergoing rapid corporatization.
Live Nation and AEG have been aggressively investing in Nashville, pushing independent venues to the brink of extinction. In recent years, the Basement East and Marathon Music Works have entered into agreements with Live Nation, which also operates Ascend Amphitheater. AEG is developing a new venue as part of the massive project that will also be home to the new Amazon office space.
In addition to the Graduate Hotel, AJ Capital Partners developed the Gulch hotel Thompson Nashville and the May Hosiery development, which is planned to consist of 175,000 square feet of Class A creative office, boutique hotel, retail, restaurant, and event spaces.