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November 20, 2017

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Nightclub shuttered for three years opens this weekend as Boulevard Theater


Leila Navidi

Magician Tommy Wind performs at the Clarion Hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

A new Strip theater plans to bring as many as three new, exciting shows from overseas after it officially opens next month. The former Empire Ballroom nightclub, which has been shuttered for three years, has been quietly transformed in a $10 million makeover into the Boulevard Theater.

“While totally empty, the property managers kept it current and clean, and all the fire systems worked,” said General Manager John George as he gave me a walking tour. “We gutted the place, then renovated, repainted and recarpeted. We threw away the walls, the bars and every piece of furniture. That required a lot of dumpsters over eight months!”

One thing that couldn’t be carted away was the 800-pound chandelier that hung in the center of the nightclub. It’s now in a large crate ready for somebody to buy it or take it away at their expense.

The 22,000-square-foot building, set back from the Strip steps from the driveway to the private, high-roller suites of MGM Mansion, once played home to Prince and the Black Eyed Peas. Miami Heat superstar LeBron James even hosted an all-star party there.

John continued: “It’s a landmark theater reminiscent of Broadway-style theaters. The theater is set up for 500 stadium seats or 400 seats with cocktail tables. We also have a 2,000-square-foot outdoor patio for weddings, corporate or private events. We’ve been told it reminds performers of the Apollo Theater in New York.”

“We wanted to create an upscale live performance theater. It’s kind of a hybrid space because we will have concerts and shows at normal times, but then there’s a nightclub for the late hours, and during the daylight we’ll have weddings, bar mitzvahs and events for everything from fashion to product unveilings.”

Tommy Wind

Magician Tommy Wind performs at the Clarion Hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Launch slideshow »

After six months of scouring the world for entertainment, I’ve learned that Boulevard is in negotiations for three productions from Australia, Europe and Mexico to take slots at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. Until then, illusionist Tommy Wind performs his “Music and Magic” at 5 and 7 p.m. starting Saturday, with Sebastian Anzaldo and Sharon Owens performing the Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand “Concert That Never Was” at 3 p.m. daily.

“The after-show party of the 11 p.m. production will turn into the nightclub,” John said. Two prominent and veteran Las Vegas nightlife czars have signed on to run the club component. “Finding shows has not been a problem,” John added. “Everybody from all around the world wants to play Vegas because we’re the only city in the world that gets an entire new population every Thursday night.”

“But we are being very particular finding well-funded shows. We require in their contracts a certain amount of money to be spent each month on marketing the show because they are not marketing the theater, they are marketing their show. We are giving two- and three-year contracts, so there’s continuity and a solid base of operation. It is an upscale four-wall deal.”

With the demand on the Strip to constantly fill seats, I asked if there were worries about the location. “We own our parking lot with 300 spaces, so it’s the shortest walk anywhere in Las Vegas into a theater,” John said. “We have a high-definition LED board right on the Strip to lead people along the walkway. … If they don’t drive or taxi to the front door in, it’s a 30-second walk off the Strip.

“We’ll keep the seats filled because the ticket prices will really be competitive. Our overhead allows that. Our average price will be between $59 and $79, except for limited gold seating at $129, which would include an artist and photo meet-and-greet.”

“The theater itself is almost like an act. It’s a beautiful star in its own right and becomes part of the overall attraction. There is a demand for more theater space in Las Vegas. … There is an abundance of shows looking for theater space.”

The two-level theater has four bars, as much bar and liquor space as most Las Vegas nightclubs. The unrestricted license permits the after-parties rolling until 5 to 6 a.m. Laughed John: “Right until the wee hours of the morning, and then we can send them next door to Fatburger for breakfast.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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