Exclusive: Q&A With Aubrey Preston, RCA Studio A’s Future Owner

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• October 7, 2014
Aubrey Preston

Aubrey Preston

Last week, MusicRow reported that AMT Trust swooped in with a last-minute contract to purchase 30 Music Square West, home of historic RCA Studio A, and save it from destruction. The property had recently been purchased by Bravo Development who planned to build a five-story condo building on the site. Bravo, led by Tim Reynolds, paid approximately $4 million for the property.

Local philanthropist Aubrey Preston formed AMT Trust in order to purchase and preserve the property. Preston, whose trust is under contract to pay $5.6 million for 30 Music Square West, was previously involved in other local Nashville-area preservation projects, including the Franklin Theatre and Leipers Fork area, which he calls home. The Cleveland, Tenn. native also worked with the Americana Music Association to create the Americana Music Triangle, a budding multistate tourism project stretching from Nashville to Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans.

MusicRow spoke with Preston about his plans for 30 Music Square West.

How did you become interested in the project?

It comes from my appreciation of the history of American music and the role that Studio A played in that.

The person that got me involved was [songwriter and SaveStudioA member] Trey Bruce, an old friend. Our kids went to school together. He called me and we went out for coffee and he started showing me what was going on [with RCA Studio A], and to tell you the truth, I didn’t believe what I was hearing, so I had to go look and understand it a little more. I was astonished about what was getting ready to happen. I’m so grateful that Mr. Reynolds gave us an option at the eleventh hour to purchase the property, and avoid this disaster for our town.

Talk about forming AMT Trust.

AMT is a little company that I put together really at the eleventh hour, because I didn’t wake up last Tuesday thinking I was going to buy a building. I realized that nobody else was going to buy it and I thought it was impossible that the building could be torn down. We bought the property in that entity [AMT Trust] that was created that day, to have the flexibility to learn more about the property and listen to smart people who can help us with the best strategy to preserve it in the long run. What we learn from the preservation people, and our legal and accounting advisors, will determine what the ownership vehicle will be. There’s a lot of discovery that needs to happen as far as the best way to preserve it in the long run, which is our primary goal.

What is the closing day on the sale?

The closing day is Dec. 31, so it will happen on or before that day.

Are there plans to sell the building to another owner?

That kind of got out into the press. The general idea is that we needed to get the property under contract. When we talk about selling the building, we’re really talking about trying to find the right vehicle, the appropriate entity for us to own the building. We’re planning on being the owners of the property, we’re just not sure what that will look like.

What are your ideas for what the building will look like? Will you incorporate the building into a new development, or is it more about leaving it as is?

It’s real early in our process of discovering exactly what we bought, and listening closely to the talented preservation people who can help us understand the obstacles.

My general way of going about things in the past has been to follow a path of pure preservation. Obviously, there was the Leipers Fork area, and then the Franklin Theatre that I was highly involved in redeveloping. There are things you want to do to update them, but in both of those situations, and in general, try to take the most pure path we can take, yet still kind of update the property to make it economically vibrant.

If I was guessing right now, I would say we would try to make the property look and feel a lot like it did in 1965, and of course this will involve getting pictures from the archives. We understand RCA and New York [have archives], and there are other people who have a lot of pictures. As some of those things come forward and we understand what the building looked like in 1965, when it was opened, that will be very important to how we guide the property.

What about the tenants who have been told that they will have to leave the property?

The problem that we’re up against is that the contract we had to sign literally at the eleventh hour was really more of a “dare” contract than a sales contract. The terms of the contract are so onerous on the buyer, that’s one of the reason there weren’t any buyers. We’re prohibited from talking to any of the existing tenants for 30 days until the due diligence period is over. So, we won’t be able to really comment in depth on who will be staying until we have some conversations with those folks. Our goal is to preserve the building and preserve the music-making way of life there that’s been going on for 50 years. It seems crazy to re-purpose the building now and do something else, when sites like this are so rare globally.

Are there other historical music industry-related properties that might be purchased in the future?

I think we’ll keep an open mind to that, but we’re not Music Row investors, that’s not our primary purpose. This we’re seeing as a philanthropic kind of acquisition that hopefully over time, will heal itself from an economic perspective. Clearly we’ve overpaid for the property from a pure economic perspective. It’s hard to make that kind of investment regularly and make it up on volume.

Next year marks 50 years for RCA Studio A.

I think next year will be a great opportunity to look back over history and really kind of revisit all of the great things that have happened there. I think Chet Atkins, the party that they opened it at, if I heard it right, was in March 1965, so maybe we can get together in March and have a party to celebrate it. It’s interesting the people who have taken note of this. Justin Timberlake dropped it to his 40 million Facebook fans on Sunday, which I think is kind of indicative of how important this is to people around the world who are watching. He’s been watching this obviously, and you wonder who else has been watching to see what Nashville is going to do.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson is a staff writer with MusicRow Enterprises. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine, TasteofCountry.com and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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