AJ Capital Close to Buying Another Music Venue After Nashville's Exit/In

A$AP Ferg
Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

A$AP Ferg performs on stage at Roseland Theater on July 7, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.

The Nashville-based real estate firm is in talks to buy the Roseland Theater in Portland.

While hotel developer AJ Capital faces off with Nashville politicians and musicians protesting the company’s acquisition of the building housing the famed Exit/In music club, sources say the well-funded company is in talks to buy the Roseland Theater in Portland, Oregon, which has hosted concerts by Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Pearl Jam and Miles Davis.

AJ Capital intends to purchase Roseland through a recently registered LLC called StageRight Ventures, the club’s current owner David Leiken, 72, confirms, noting that the acquisition talks have been led by AJ Capital’s chief investment officer Tim Ryan and former WME agent Ryan Jansen. Columbus, Ohio, -based promoter Prime Social Group has also helped AJ Capital in its efforts to expand its portfolio. A rep for Prime Social Group said he could not comment on the company's work with AJ Capital.

A number of entrepreneurs, including former WME co-head of music Marc Geiger, have been on the hunt for venues and concert businesses since the pandemic began, but AJ Capital has been the only company to contract to buy a venue so far. While the Exit/In’s property owners have accepted AJ’s offer and the deal is now in escrow, Leiken -- who bought and restored Roseland in the early '90s after his predecessor Larry Hurwitz was accused of murdering his publicist and fled the country -- has not yet accepted AJ’s offer. Leiken says he is close to securing an agreement because he is ready to retire and sell the theater he had managed through his promotion company Double Tee Concerts for 30 years.

An insider says AJ Capital has offered Leiken approximately $15 million for the venue factoring in both the expected rebound of live music later this year and intangibles that other investors have undervalued, like the theaters zoning status which allows for significant vertical expansion.

Leiken, who declined to comment on the dollar amount, says zoning for the property underneath the Roseland would allow it to be redeveloped into a skyscraper that matches the height of the 42-story U.S. Bancorp Tower, which is across the street from the theater and is Portland’s second tallest building.

“They are the first company to understand the actual value of this building,” says Leiken, who adds that he also owns the air rights to the theater property, which would be needed to build on top of the theater, which sits on the ground floor of the building. A representative from AJ Capital declined to comment on the Roseland Theater but did reiterate its commitment to preserving the Exit/In in Nashville, where company officials face mounting protests over the independent club's future.

Weprin acknowledge the pending Exit/In sale on Friday, two weeks after news leaked in late March that his company, the developer of the Graduate Hotel chain -- the New York Times dubbed him a “brotelier” -- had entered into a contract to buy the building that houses the venerated club from its owner, Southeast Venture, for almost $7 million.

In his statement, Weprin indicated that AJ Capital plans to preserve “Nashville’s beloved EXIT/IN, which was always our intent for the iconic music venue.”

Weprin did not share any details of his plan for the 50-year-old venue where Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Leonard Cohen and Talking Heads once performed.

The club has been operated by Chris and Telisha Cobb since 2004 (they bought into the ownership group in 2012), who are attempting to raise $7 million to buy back the Exit/In from whoever ends up with the club.

“We have different visions for how the property should be used,” says Cobb, who explains that the building, like the Roseland, is zoned for vertical expansion as high as 85 feet provided certain variances are met. He says he was briefed on a proposal by Ryan to renovate the venue into a high-end destination for alumni of nearby Vanderbilt University and guests of Nashville’s Graduate Hotel.

“If their intent is to secure Exit/In’s future, they should accept our offer to purchase our buildings,” Cobb said. “They can make a profit, and we can continue to ensure Exit/In serves its community, as we have for the past 17 years.”

Cobb says he’s also heard talk of a secret bar for VIPs like retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning who attended the University of Tennessee. One of Manning’s brothers, Cooper Manning, heads up investor relations at AJ Capital and the other, former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, is close friends with Weprin.

Cobb also says that Ryan tried to recruit him to stay on at the Exit/In after his lease is up, but he turned the offer down. “I have no interest in that,” he says. “Our independent music venues must not be corporatized or luxuriated. They must serve our creative working class.”

AJ Capital is one of Nashville’s largest developers. It built the Thompson Hotel in Nashville’s Gulch neighborhood and is converting the former May Hosiery Mill, which opened in 1909, into a mixed-use development. Weprin has also developed relationships with key players in the live-music industry, including Live Nation, which is relocating its offices to the May Hosiery development, and venture capitalist Ron Burkle, whose Yucaipa Companies owns Artist Group International and Soho House, which will anchor May Hosiery. Former Paradigm music co-head Tom Windish was an early investor in the May Hosiery project but tells Billboard he was not involved in the Exit/In deal.

SEC records show that Weprin operates nine separate funds through the company that, collectively, give him a war chest of more than $1 billion raised from more than 500 investors who pay a minimum of $5 million to buy into one of the funds. The largest is valued at $680 million and funds the Graduate Hotel chain, which owns 28 properties and is building seven more, according to the company’s website

Weprin is no stranger to controversy when it comes to gentrification. In June 2020, AJ Capital ignited a firestorm of protests when it forced the eviction of a 75-unit affordable housing complex in Palo Alto, California, according to city council records, in order to build a 75-room Graduate Hotel near Stanford University. Despite the opposition, AJ Capital threatened to sue if Palo Alto’s city council didn’t approve its permit to raze the apartments.