Friday, Sept. 9, 2011 | 3:18 p.m.
It is stop-the-clock time at the Las Vegas Mob Experience.
Beginning Monday, a sizable segment of the Tropicana’s Mafia-themed interactive museum will be shut down for an indefinite period so officials can make “significant improvements” to the entertainment venue.
The entire interactive walking tour and its high-tech features, including hologram images of such stars as Frank Vincent, James Caan and Mickey Rourke leading guests through the exhibit, will be shut down. The live actors will be let go, at least temporarily, as will much of the LVME support staff, which was informed this afternoon by the venue’s managing partner, Louis Ventre, of the decision to close most of the attraction.
“I think it will be a more enjoyable experience once we make the improvements we need to make,” Ventre said in a phone conversation today. “There are so many things that need to be done on the technical side in terms of implementation of technology. … And there will be some surprises I can’t get into yet.”
Left open to the public will be the atrium at the hub of the Mob Experience, which leads guests to rooms filled with static displays of artifacts, memorabilia, furniture and home movies supplied by the family members hired as consultants to help authenticate the Mob Experience experience. Guests will be charged a reduced ticket rate of $10 beginning Monday, Ventre said, to visit that space, which makes up about 12,000 square feet of a 26,000-square-foot space. (The Sun is involved in a cross-promotional agreement with the attraction in which it shares photo and video content in exchange for brand placement.)
None of the live actors used at the museum will be retained during the LVME’s renovation period, though Ventre says live actors will be back in place when the full museum reopens. Also, none of the high-tech features trumpeted by then-Mob Experience frontman Jay Bloom when the space opened seven months ago will be in operating condition.
No reopening date is being specified for when the revamped attraction will be back in order, though Ventre said it will indeed be back in full operation, likely by January.
“I don’t think people should fear we’ll reopen,” he said. “We just need to shut part of it down for a period of time.” January is the safest time period to target for a reopening, Ventre says, and renovations might be finished by the end of the year.
There are myriad reasons for Ventre’s decision to halt most of the operations at LVME. One is that the attraction has had snags and malfunctions in its technology. The attraction’s audio quality has at times been iffy. The RFID badges issued to guests, which store each guest’s personal information for a more customized tour through the space by the celebrity hosts, “has not been very consistent,” as Ventre said
“A lot of it is not because of the equipment, but because of how it has been programmed,” Ventre said. “Implementation of technology has been a real problem.”
But that has hardly been the only obstacle standing between the Mob Experience, which opened to the public on March 1, and uniformed success at the Trop. Bloom, the man who envisioned the $25 million project initially, stepped down as its manager in July, replaced by his onetime business partner in the project, Ventre.
Bloom indicated that he still held an administrative role with the Mob Experience through his association with Eagle Group Holdings LLC, which owned Murder Inc., the Mob Experience’s management company. But a spokesman for the attraction quickly clarified that as of July 5, Bloom had no authority over, or involvement with, the Mob Experience.
In early August, the Mob Experience, with Bloom as lead defendant, was sued in District Court in Clark County by two companies who said they advanced $4 million to the Mob Experience and accused Bloom of misstating the financial condition of the venue and diverting money from the attraction for his personal use.
In late August, Bloom countered that suit with one of his own, claiming he’d been wrongly run out of Murder Inc., and charging that the Tropicana had fallen short in its commitment to adequately market the Mob Experience.
Litigation aside, LVME has certainly underperformed in luring visitors to the space, which is set far back from the Trop’s front entrance on the south pavilion side of the hotel. Ventre says the daily total of paid, ticketed guests has been 280 to 320, at least a third of what officials hoped when the space opened.
Why has the Mob Experience struggled to attract a high volume of visitors?
“There is more to the answer than you would think,” Ventre said. “It goes back to Mob Experience marketing. We’ve built something pretty spectacular, but the general public has no idea what the Mob Experience is about. We were pretty lucky to see the paid visitors we got, and we missed it on marketing, no question.”
But Ventre is not blaming the hotel, saying, “The Tropicana hotel staff, all the way to the top, has been so supportive of this. Without the Trop, we would not be able to work this out.” Late efforts to cut ticket prices from $40 to $30, and even offer 2-for-1 deals, have not measurably improved the Mob Experience's capacity to draw visitors.
Ventre says the marketing strategy will “re-brand” the attraction but isn’t offering specifics. Don’t expect such gimmickry as the three decommissioned prison buses rolled out during a pre-opening unveiling of family members and artifacts last year. Those buses were to scoop up tourists along the Strip, ticket them and deliver them to the Trop.
Problem was, the buses were not air conditioned and, as vehicles used to transport convicted felons, were not built for comfort. Ventre says the fine-tuning of the technology and marketing strategy will be executed by a collaboration of experts “parachuted” into the operation and those already on staff who are familiar with the terrain.
Within a couple weeks, Ventre says the new team will be formally in place, and the makeover will start to take hold.
“We think the upgrade will be sooner rather than later,” he said. “We want to be what we have been advertising, as the most technically advanced attraction there is, and we only have one crack at this.”