Tuesday, August 24, 2010

High costs led to closing of Ameristar Casino Home nightclub

From Stltoday.com: "There was no place like Home when the glitzy, $15 million nightclub in the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles opened during Christmas week 2007.

Months before it opened, fliers circulated around town promising that Home would "reshape the nightlife industry in the Midwest forever."

The club, with its crocodile upholstery, marble-meets-onyx bars and glass-blown chandeliers, brought in national nightclub names. During its opening week music personality DJ AM, reality star Kim Kardashian, actress Jaime Pressly and former Miss USA Tara Connor came to Home. Other celebrities visited over the next three years, including Paris Hilton, Lil Kim, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Pauly D. from "Jersey Shore."

But on Saturday night, Travie McCoy of the music group Gym Class Heroes turned out to be the last celebrity guest at Home.

The nightclub unexpectedly closed early Sunday morning, with a 4 a.m. e-mail from Jim Franke, Ameristar's senior vice president and general manager. Franke said Home was unable to turn a regular profit and was operating just two nights a week, down from its glory days when it was open nightly.

Home had become a destination not only for clubgoers in the St. Charles area, but in St. Louis.

"When Home opened, we saw a drastic decline in business, and rightfully so," said Mark Winfield, who owns Club 15 downtown. "It's a beautiful space."

But Winfield won't mourn the closing of Home. He says he never felt the playing field was even once Home opened.

Home was solidly backed by Vegas-based event company Angel Music Group during its first two years, allowing Home to pay celebrities huge fees.

"They priced us off the market," Winfield said.

Home spent big money to book talent, but there was a reason for it, says Mike Knopfel, public relations manager for Ameristar.

"We want to bring people to Ameristar," he said. "At the end of the day, what we are is a casino, and we use whatever we can to try to bring guests to our facility."

But the high cost of those big acts would be a problem over time, because the club wasn't drawing people like it used to. Someone like Paris Hilton can command $100,000 to $500,000 just to show up.

A drop in attendance, typical for a new nightclub after a couple of years, and the challenge of recouping its $15 million price tag made keeping the club open impossible.

"We couldn't make the numbers work," Knopfel said.

The club this year tried to cater to African-American patrons with the urban-themed 5 Star Fridays. This switch caused some resentment.

"A lot of clubs will only open their doors to African-American patrons when they are on their way out, and it's not just Home," event promoter Sharee "Mocha Latte" Galvin said. "It's something they all do because they know the African-American market will spend a lot of money, and it's a quick fix. I felt they were on their way out when they started 5 Star Fridays."

Knopfel said, "Ameristar approaches everything from a business standpoint. Is it in our best interest financially? And with that we've done different tweaks. It comes down to what works as a company."

Home will be used by Ameristar for conferences and other private events. St. Charles Fashion Week activities are taking place at Home today as scheduled. The space will not be changed and is not expected to reopen as a nightclub.

Promoter Amin Mohabbat of B&W Productions, who was planning to bring DJ Paul Oakenfold to Home in November, said it's unfortunate the market has lost Home.

"I don't think we'll ever see a venue of that caliber close to St. Louis again," he said. "It was a really nice venue, though it was further out. And now, people are saying, 'Awww, man, I want to go one last time.'"