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BUSINESS

'We're devastated': High Dive owner says the iconic Gainesville venue is closing

Alan Festo
Gainesville Sun

For more than 30 years, the unassuming building at 210 SW Second Ave. in downtown Gainesville has hosted thousands of live musical performances, stand-up comedians and theatrical productions.

And whether you remember it as The Covered Dish, Common Grounds or, as it's called today, High Dive, the announcement April 26 that the building is being sold for redevelopment came as a shock to all.

"We're devastated, like everybody," said High Dive owner Pat Lavery, who has operated the venue since 2011. "As much as this is a loss for me personally, it's the loss for the community that is really the most profound."

Lavery posted the news on Facebook that the building's landlord had given him 30 days to vacate the property and that High Dive will close for good on May 19. As of Wednesday morning, the post had garnered thousands of reactions and hundreds of comments across Facebook and Instagram.

Lavery called the response he has received since making the announcement "overwhelming."

"While I know that this place as meant a lot to a lot of people ֱ myself, my staff, all the bands, the community ֱ the volume of the response has been more than I could have ever expected," he said.

The Hails drummer Zach Levy is shown during a performance at High Dive in January 2018. The Hails will headline High Dive's final show before its closure on May 19.

Among those to reach out to Lavery is Bill Bryson, an entrepreneur from North Carolina who found his way to Gainesville in 1992 and opened The Covered Dish. The venue hosted a variety of local and national acts at a time when some of Gainesville's most popular bands ֱֱSister Hazel, Less than Jake and Hot Water Music ֱֱwere beginning to emerge. Lavery's connection to the building also dates back to the '90s, when Bryson gave him a job posting flyers around Gainesville and the University of Florida campus.

Bryson called news of the venue's closing "disappointing."

"The building itself is the huge loss," he said. "There's an identity to downtown that's slowly getting developed away and I think that structure provides a facility for concerts that is irreplaceable downtown."

Bryson said if and when the building is torn down, whatever is built in its place will only add to the loss of downtown Gainesville's cultural identity.

"When it's a healthy and thriving venue, it really adds a number of benefits downtown in terms of a unique business, character, drives a lot of economic engines. It provides a cultural outlet that is otherwise unavailable," Bryson said.

After The Covered Dish closed in 2000, several lounges and dance clubs came and went before Common Grounds ֱֱa coffeehouse and small performance venue ֱ relocated to the space in 2004 from its previous home on West University Avenue. Among the more memorable performers during this time was country star Kenny Chesney, who stopped in for a surprise visit ahead of his national tour.

Longtime downtown Gainesville music venue High Dive, 210 SW Second Ave., will be closing May 19 and will host The Hails for its final show.

Other notable bands to play at the venue over the years, according to the High Dive website, include Avett Brothers, Paramore, Dave Matthew's Band, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails and the Black Keys.

High Dive also was the site of Tony Sly's (No Use For A Name) last live performance before his death on July 31, 2012. He played the gig just two days earlier with Joey Cape of Lagwagon fame.

Lavery said the property has been for sale for about half of his 13-year tenure, and that he's been on the lookout for a new location for years. The right fit, however, has eluded him. He said the idea of finding another location right now with all that he has going on with the closing of the business, and the large financial requirements to do so, is "nearly impossible at this moment."

"It took over 30 years to create High Dive as it is now, and all the history and all the care and curation that went into creating an environment and a reputation," he said. "... It's been cultivated to allow a large demographic of people to feel comfortable going there."

Lavery will eventually have time to reflect on his journey and pursue other ventures. For now, he remains focused on satisfying his obligations as the owner of a business that routinely books talent six to nine months in advance, and is working to relocate the acts to other venues.

"The legacy of this building is a long list of really incredible performers and the history of that and how it's built on itself," he said. "This has been the de facto place when you're coming to Gainesville. You knew you wanted perform there and you knew it was going to be there for you to perform at, and all of that will be gone."