AJ Capital addresses Exit/In plans, Cobb family responds

On the afternoon of April 8, Exit/In owners Chris and Telisha Cobb celebrated a milestone in their endeavor to purchase the property that the iconic Nashville club sits on. The GoFundMe campaign they launched April 2, when the news broke that the site was under contract to developer AJ Capital Partners, reached its goal of $200,000. Since then, donations have continued to pour in — at press time, more than 4,000 donors have contributed more than $213,000, intended to help sweeten the Cobbs’ planned offer (backed by an undisclosed amount from Grubb Properties' Live Venue Recovery Fund) to purchase the site from AJ. 

The developer remained silent about its plans for the property until after 6 p.m. on April 9, when a statement was issued to media. A note attributed to AJ Capital Partners founder Ben Weprin says that the company does not (and never did) plan to build a hotel on the property, and will be taking up the task of putting the venue on the National Register of Historic Places. Furthermore, the company is making an offer to refund all donations to the GoFundMe.

The Cobbs, however, are not backing down from their bid. In a response to Weprin’s note, they emphasize the importance of keeping in place staff who understand the venue’s role in the community — preserving the culture of the business as well as the building in which it is housed.

Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse, one of the five councilmembers who spoke at Wednesday’s press-conference-turned-mini-block-party outside the venue, sent along a response that echoes the Cobbs’ concerns. He also contends that placement on the National Register of Historic Places will not offer the same kind of protection as a historic overlay from Metro.

See all of the responses in full here, starting with that of Weprin:

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 EXITINPreserved@ajcpt.com. 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.

From Telisha and Chris Cobb:

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!

And from Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse:

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.

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