Gravity gone: Landlord ousts tenant, vows club's return

Ludwig Kuttner closed the Gravity Lounge but says the popular venue will open soon under new management.
PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE

The on-the-skids Gravity Lounge, which solicited private donations earlier this year to stay afloat, finally foundered today when landlord Ludwig Kuttner changed the locks and took back his prime Downtown Mall property in the Terraces building.

In the end, it was safety matters that closed the club after a fire marshal visit last week. The violations are supposed to be fixed within two days, and when he got a citation today, says Kuttner, "That was the famous straw that broke the camel's back," says Kuttner. "We have other tenants. You just can't do that."

According to Kuttner, Gravity Lounge manager Bill Baldwin hadn't paid rent in more than two years on the club space and an apartment in the building, and owed around $200,000.

"We tried to settle this in January," says Kuttner. "I made plans to run this place more professionally."

And the good news, says Kuttner, is that Gravity will remain a mid-size venue, and the team that's in place to run the nightspot will be unveiled next week.

"I had this vision that this was a great place for young people to hang out," says Kuttner. "Last year, there were over 400 events here. Four hundred! [Baldwin] said, 'I can't make money.'"

Reached by telephone this afternoon, Baldwin declined comment.

Over five and half years, the club–- which opened with a bookstore and cyber-lounge vibe–- morphed into one of Charlottesville's leading live music venues. It has featured such luminaries as Corey Harris, Devon, the Beetnix, and performance artist Stevie Jay. As a small venue, it also attracted some of the stadium-packers from recent history including Richie Havens, Odetta, Marshall Crenshaw, and Dolores O'Riordan. Even politicians such as Ralph Nader and Tom Perriello made speeches there.

29 comments

Mmm...Atomic Burrito.

I think it is an ideal location for a Starbucks. If we don't get one of those on the mall this village can't be taken seriously.

Help. I've fallen on a 7.5 million dollar brick and I can't get up.

The bookstore side of the business would have produced
more revenue if the lighting was brighter until the music
started and the books had an obvious price on them.
Thanks for the memories Bill. Always enjoyed talking with you.

To answer your question, A value of a typical brick and mortar business is on average five times one years gross receivables. With the limited numbers I have seen on the amount of shows per year, types of acts and my own perceived under utilization of those resources - a gross yearly revenue of $200K per year could be obtained from that brand with little to no effort. In my option, I am not stating fact, just that I would have also taken the same risk for the same result.

I am in the tech sector. If I used those or banker evaluation formulas I would have spat out a number like its worth 8 billion

please don't bring up atomic burrito... I'm still in withdrawal.

Brian W., you seem like the sort that could rise right to the top at one of those banks were collectively bailing out right now. Where on earth did you come up with that value? Are you saying that the magic name Gravity Lounge draws people in a way that any venue with a decent line up of acts couldn't?

Gravity's space has always been awkward, which I have little doubt accounts for its lack of popularity, and it's failed bookstore decor only made things worse. The sound was ok, but not stellar, and that isn't such a big deal for any small venue to at least be able to match in quality.

What I do miss downtown is the energy that Atomic Burrito had. If a new Gravity Lounge could capture that while successfully scaling it up to take advantage of the extra space it has, then they could easily afford to take a loss here and there on worthy, but maybe less popular acts.

I agree and another era in cville history passes before our eyes.
The acts Bill brought in there enriched our lives and were pretty affordable compared to the Pavillion or the Paramount. It was a pity so many of them went so poorly attended.

So what will the new management bring? Who knows. Draft beer is good.

The Gravity was the best listening room in cville.
They did a great job of booking some phenomenal talent.
Hopefully the new 'management' will have similar shows.

And hopefully they'll finally have draft beer.

If Gravity would have had draft beers, they would have made a lot more $$.

So with Tift Merritt moving over to the Resource Center, will I not be able to buy a beer?

Outskirts Guy, as someone who also has a joke-ready last name, I think that's a little juvenile. I found your comment much funnier at first, when I somehow instead concluded that the word you were trying to insert was "corn."

The Crapshawvian monopoly rolls on and will turn the place in to yet another mediocre yet overly-hyped pile of (insert first part of his name here).

I'm sure this place will soon be turned in to another empty spot with a big for lease sign on it. The mall needs more of those.

I agree with Mr, Kuttner's long tail view.

In allowing the operation to go on for two years with a net loss of $200,000+ he now has ownership of a brand worth possibly in the $400K to $800K range. Good move on his part if he plays his cards right. Getting 400 to 800% ROI on your investment will never compare to the 100% he would have in hand if the rent been paid.

Brand is king, cash has no value today.

i heard andy jems and coran's team will be taking over... except a lot of jam bands and starrhill beer!

Well, is anybody in this mess planning to notify certain stellar out of town performers with a stop planned here in the near future that the venue is closed? It's a disgrace to leave travelling musicians out of the loop when this kind of thing happens.

So... nobody answered if they're serving booze at the music resource center.

I'm betting not.

Due to the unfortunate closing of Gravity Lounge, the following shows have been picked up by IS Venue, 709 W. Main St. in Charlottesville:

SUNDAY APRIL 19th -
106.1 The Corner Presents THE DUHKS / 7:30 pm / $5 / All Ages

MONDAY APRIL 20th - "CELEBRATE 420 @ home, then Celebrate 420 with IS Venue" w/ DUBCONSCIOUS and THE DOWNBEAT PROJECT / 8:30 pm / $7 / 18 +

TUESDAY APRIL 28th -
WILL HOGE w/ KATIE HERZIG / 7:00 pm / $10 / All Ages

For more information, please call 434-202-0234, or email booking@isvenue.com

Gravity brought real music to Charlottesville at affordable prices. It was a venue where audience and performers could get close. Jazz blues rock r&b folk country classical alternative Latin African blue grass world beat etc etc. And it did it against all odds-If it received any attention from the Hook or Cville -publications that confuse pissy arrogance with discriminating taste-it was often insulting and demeaning and yet it forged on.One great review of a performer that won too many awards to mention noted that "how the mighty had fallen" as most of the audience was over 30. I guess one needs to attract 15 to 20 somethings to have an opinion about music. It featured world famous and local talent as well as dozens of fundraisers for many worthy causes. It was a beautiful offering to the community. Rather than miss it-which I will- I will try to focus on how many great shows I was able to see there. One day- "Charlottesville, Music Capital of the Universe"- as a special edition of the Cville once proclaimed in a banner headline-obviously written by someone who didn't get out much-may get another venue like Gravity and maybe next time it will cherish what it has.

Brian said:To answer your question, A value of a typical brick and mortar business is on average five times one years gross receivables.

I believe that the proper valuation is that it is worth 5 times the NET income. (less debt, plus inventory/assets)
......which means that it is worth zero since it ran at a loss and has 200k in debt.

This nice guy could not make this business fly and it is time for new blood. Nothing to be ashamed of, his heart was in the right place.

If dude hasn't made rent or venue payments in 2 years at $200K, wasn't Kuttner "allowing" this? There's a story in here,Lisa, you just need to find it.

It's a shame. I wasn't able to make it to the benefit, but did donate online far more than the requested door donation. I'm glad that it will still be around to host music. Hopefully they can widen the space to fit more people and make more money.

He owed 2 years of rent? Should have been out on his butt awhile ago.

diagoliv, correct. But it basically means there's much more to this story than what has been told to the reporter. The reason the landlord let him stay for two years would most likely prove to be quite interesting.

A $100,000 loss per year on one piece of property has to be an attractive tax write off. But I imagine even the IRS would start questioning the write off in the second year. So it couldn't be that.

400 events last year? That's more than one a day, every day of the year. Hmmm..makes me wonder what other untruths are hiding in plain sight here.
Who called the fire marshal? Whose responsibility is it to fix problems the fire marshal cites? Who was responsible for creating those problems in the first place? What were the citations for? Overcrowding? Or was the fire marshal story just a ruse to kick Baldwin out?..."when he got a citation today, says Kuttner, ââ?¬Å?That was the famous straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Kuttner. ââ?¬Å?We have other tenants. You just can’t do that.”...Do what, exactly, Mr. Kuttner?
Let's see....$200,000 divided by 24 months = $8,333 per month. Is that what the new management will be paying? Bill Baldwin built the Gravity Lounge into the venue it had become from the dark basement it was previously...Kuttner may have been owed rent, but he gets all the improvements to the space, and the reputation of the space as a venue, and he has clearly indicated it will continue as a music venue.
I agree with Chou.... there's (more of a)story here, Lisa...do some digging.

It sucks that the old management couldn't do what it takes to run a profitable business in a busy prime location. I don't see any reason to blame that on the property owner though. If I were owed $200,000 by a tenant, he would have long since been gone. Whether high or lower, what Kuttner decides to charge for rent in the future has nothing to do with someone else's obligations which resulted from lease agreements made in the past. Also musiclover, you must have missed the part where the article says the back rent was for both an apartment and the lounge space.

As far as who called the fire marshal etc., that is hardly relevant. If there were existing violations which the marshal found and the tenant didn't straighten those problems out, the landlord could hardly allow that situation to continue. If he did, and there were a resulting problem, the landlord would be screwed in a big way if he negligently allowed it to continue.

The fact that the bad bookstore/cybercafe idea lingered so long shows me that there were some serious management problems. "Improvements to the space?" Some bookcases, cheap chairs and a bar? Getting that clutter out of there will be a welcome improvement.

Sounds like Kuttner was the biggest donor of all.

What is wrong with you folks? The Daily Progress story on Feb. 9 said:

An additional $200,000 would help cover the rent for the location just off the Downtown Mall and pay off ââ?¬Å?a major investor” in the business. Baldwin said the money would not cover any investment he has put into the venue.

So now we know who the investor was, the landlord. Hope the new management can keep it an interesting music venue. Seems to me Kuttner has done some good for the community here.

Correction, Feb. 5., 2009. It's the first link above, then the first link.

The money he's losing on the Gravity space is clearly cutting into Kuttner's income significantly if he's having to ignore style and shop at thrift stores just to keep clothes on his back :-)
Once that space starts making money, lets get him some new duds, please?

heard the flat will take over the restaurant and danny shea and andy jems will be doing the music... though didn't "the flat" run the restaurant before and what came of that?

Let us not forget the Gravity Lounge all the good it did for the local talent. I know how much gravity helped me in becoming a better musician by giving me a chance to play, and at the time no one else would. Thank you Bill, you're a great man. You did much to help me as well as countless other musicians.