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The situation with Great Scott, the shuttered 44-year-old rock club at Harvard Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, has taken several twists and turns this week, including the belief that a crowdfunding investment campaign had saved the venue. But unless things take yet another jag, the 240-capacity club — formerly occupied by Frank Strenk and owned by Oak Hill Properties LLC — will not reopen.
The club closed May 1, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 26, Carl Lavin, Great Scott’s talent buyer since 2005, aligned with crowdfunding company Mainvest and launched the investment drive. (In 2012, he became an employee of the club’s new booking agency Bowery Boston — now owned by the giant AEG.) The idea was to build a base of small-scale investors, people who loved the club and/or the community.
By June 10, they reached their initial goal of $150,000. Earlier this week, Nick Mathews, Mainvest’s CEO, said that they’d raised more than $190,000 and they were still only a third of the way through the limited-time campaign. Lavin had an agreement in place to purchase the intellectual property of the brand, the liquor license and the remaining infrastructure and PA system.
There was cause for optimism, but it turned out to be misplaced. The agreement with Strenk was contingent on Lavin, via Mainvest, being able to lease the club from Oak Hill.
“They were completely unresponsive,” Lavin said Thursday. “The only thing they ever asked for was a written offer and I sent an offer on June 4 to lease the premises to Red Tree Real Estate, the company tasked with renting out the space for Oak Hill. I was directed to Adam Rotkin, who I spoke with. He said, ‘Oh. they don't want to have a rock club. Send an offer, but they're pretty far down the line with [leasing to] somebody else.’ I got no response, no acknowledgment that they received the offer, no additional requests. I followed up and still didn’t get a response.”
On Wednesday, Lavin said he and Mainvest got a letter from Oak Hill attorney John Mangones, saying, in part: “Oak Hill has received multiple applications from credit-worthy prospective tenants. Oak Hill is moving forward and has entered an LOI [letter of intent] with one of those applicants, with the expectation that a long-term lease will be executed shortly. … There is still no timeline as to when Massachusetts will lift the shutdown for bars/music venues, therefore Great Scott would have to pay rent for many months without generating any revenue. …As part of the LOI it entered, Oak Hill is restricted from negotiating with other parties at this present time. As such, Oak Hill will not have any further communication with you about the premises.”
“It was definitely a surprise to us and one not communicated at all before that moment,” said Mathews.
Reached for further comment Thursday, Mangones, a litigator for the firm Godbout Law PLLC, said everything Oak Hill needed to say was in the letter he sent to Lavin.
“I knew it was an uphill battle, but they did not treat myself or the community with any regard as far as the effort for us to maintain what it was,” Lavin said. “I've always been operating with the knowledge that this isn’t what they preferred to do, and with that, there was a certain level of pessimism about being able to change the minds of people who aren’t really trying to have their minds changed. My hope in reaching out early was in making my intentions clear and make them aware of the community support for the club, I was always hopeful the combination of factors could work while knowing they would be reluctant.
“I thought ‘How about if I jump in and secure investments enough to cover the lease and to upgrade the soundproofing?’” [The club’s poor soundproofing had been an issue.] “But they were on a path. I knew there was another preferred avenue. They had concerns about the economic viability of a venue that’s been in this place since 1976.”
Mainvest’s Mathews issued a statement Wednesday saying that all the funds raised for saving Great Scott were held in an escrow account and “to the extent that the Great Scott campaign is unable to find a viable path forward, all invested capital will be returned to investors, fee-free.”
As to his further involvement in the rock club scene, Lavin said “I’m absolutely open to exploring other opportunities along those lines,” meaning he could still purchase the liquor license from Strenk and find another location to create a space like Great Scott.
“This would be a completely different endeavor than what was going before,” Lavin said, “but tapping into the community’s hopes and wishes and wants to have Great Scott continue. Buying the license from Frank is still on the table. He hasn’t sold it to anybody else.”
Mathews said Mainvest would “absolutely” get on board with Lavin again should he find a new spot. “The people of Allston have pretty clearly voted with their wallets. It’s what they want. At the end of the day, that wasn’t considered. We support Carl in his continuing work and would be more than ecstatic to bring it to another location.”
If Lavin were to do that, Mathews said Mainvest could do one of two things: Return the investments collected so far to save Great Scott and launch a new fundraiser, or revise the current offering and inform investors of the new direction, giving them the opportunity to opt-in or exit.
“In theory, I’d like to purchase and open something,” Lavin said. “What I’ve learned in this whirlwind of these two months is the role a venue like Great Scott plays for artists and fans, locally and nationally, to agents and to tour managers. What the loss of a venue like Great Scott means to the live music ecosystem in Boston is huge. I know there's still an important role for a venue of Great Scott's size to play in the music community, especially now. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
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