AJ Capital vows to preserve Exit/In in first statement
A historical marker for the Elliston Place “Rock Block” is positioned just outside the Exit/In. (Photo: John Partipilo)
AJ Capital Partners, the apparent purchaser of the Exit/In rock and roll club, broke its silence late Friday, vowing to preserve the music venue.
The developer behind the luxury Graduate Hotel chain, AJ Capitol Partners said its plan was never to build a hotel where the 50-year-old venue is located.
The company said in a public statement forwarded to the Tennessee Lookout that it was bound by confidentiality and could not comment until today. The real estate transaction was not finalized as of Friday.
Questions still swirl around Exit/In, including what the future holds for current operators Chris Cobb and Telisha Cobb, who have run the venue for 17 years. Although AJ Capital Partners said the plan is to preserve the venue, stakeholders immediately questioned whether the firm will partner with a major corporation like Live Nation to help operate Exit/In.
Just a few years ago, Live Nation aggressively tried to buy Exit/In from Chris Cobb and his partner. Corporatization of Nashville’s live music industry has pushed independent venues to the brink.
“Our goal and company mission statement is to conserve and preserve while maintaining the health and vibrancy of the communities we invest in,” AJ Capital Partners founder Ben Weprin said in a statement. “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.”
Not only did AJ Capital Partners say it never planned to build a hotel on the Rock Block property, the company said its first order of business is to add Exit/In to the National Register of Historic Places. The club already has a historic marker honoring its contributions to the Nashville music community and, at 50 years old, is eligible for the national register.
“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,” Weprin said.
Chris Cobb and Telisha Cobb achieved their goal of raising over $200,000 in their effort to buy the venue. The Cobbs partnered with Grubb Properties in hopes of buying the venue and said earlier this month they met the former owners’ asking price. The former owners, the Nash and Anthony families, sold to AJ Capital Partners instead, a decision the Cobbs said was motivated by their opposition to a failed hotel development across the street.
The Cobbs said they still hold out hope to buy the property, which includes the next door bar Hurry Back, from AJ Capital Partners.
“We are thrilled Ben agrees Exit/In must be preserved,” the Cobbs said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Metro Councilman Jeff Syracuse, who works in the music industry and has advocated for preserving Nashville’s important music landmarks including the Exit/In, maintained his concern that AJ Capital Partners could still develop on the property. Syracuse said adding the club to the national register does not block future development, and he worried about a corporate partnership that would sap Exit/In of its independent venue status.
Exit/In is vital to Nashville’s music ecosystem because at a capacity of 500 people it gives touring artists as well as up-and-coming Nashville artists a place to play. The list of artists who have played there ranges from Etta James to R.E.M.
“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,” Syracuse said. “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.”
Chris Cobb has been an integral part of Nashville’s music industry. Last year he advocated for independent venues to receive government assistance following shutdown orders due to the pandemic. Because of his advocacy locally, and nationally, independent venues were part of last year’s stimulus package. Metro also dedicated funds to shuttered music venues.
AJ Capital Partners did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In addition to Exit/In, the company opened a Graduate Hotel on West End and refurbished the May Hosiery office building and tourist attraction in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.
AJ Capital Partners also offered to issue refunds to any individuals who gave money to the Cobbs’ GoFundMe. The Cobbs said that if their effort to buy the club failed, they’d donate the funds to the National Independent Venue Association and the Music Venue Alliance Nashville.
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