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April 23, 2014

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Stirling Club hosts its last dance, but is it really over?

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John Katsilometes

A look at the throng 30 minutes before the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place closed its doors.

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The Stirling Club closes, so there is dancing.

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Kelly Clinton and Ronnie Rose sing "Last Dance" as the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place closes.

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Mark OToole sings as Gabriel Falcone does not as the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place closes.

As a perspiring-yet-genteel mosh pit swelled around them, Kelly Clinton-Holmes and Ronnie Rose cut loose with “Last Dance,” an appropriate show-closing number by the late Donna Summer.

It was 10:30 on a Friday night at the Stirling Club, about the time when the joint starts a-jumpin’. But not on this night, the last night, as the Stirling Club was ordered to shut down earlier than usual, its well-heeled audience told to clear out.

Minutes after the dance floor cleared, Clinton-Holmes, the outgoing entertainment director at the club, said only, “This is really bittersweet.”

The club opened 10 years ago, and during that decade, it was not uncommon to see performers from up and down the Strip and across Paradise Road, from the L.V. Hilton, hustle upstairs and perform with Clinton-Holmes and her top-notch backing band. In one evening, you might see Jack Jones, Leigh Zimmerman from “The Producers” and Frankie Scinta, all taking the spotlight to sing well past midnight.

For more than 700 residents paying $400 a month in membership fees, Stirling Club also has offered a workout center, a spa, tennis courts and a restaurant in its 80,000-square-foot structure set on 3.5 acres in the heart of Turnberry Place. As late as 9:45 p.m., members holding tennis gear waited at the entrance of the club for valet attendants to deliver their vehicles.

But is this really the end of Stirling Club, forever? That was an energetically discussed topic even as the crowd loped out of the club Friday night. Word had seeped out of a last-minute deal that was on the table Friday afternoon that would have shifted ownership of the club from Jeffrey and Jacqui Soffer and their company, Turnberry Associates, to an undisclosed Las Vegas developer. That would have allowed the club to remain open, certainly to the delight of the 100 employees losing their jobs as a result of its closing.

David Atwell, for three decades a prominent commercial real estate developer in Las Vegas, has been negotiating on behalf of the prospective buyer. As he says, “People who were in the mix were a local developer and property, very successful in the last two, three years in the local market.” One rumor, which is not true, is the prospective purchaser is Steve Wynn.

David Atwell and Christina Ventre cut a rug at Stirling Club on Friday, June 18, 2010.

David Atwell and Christina Ventre cut a rug at Stirling Club on Friday, June 18, 2010.

As Atwell says, the deal unraveled amid “reasons that could have been remedied, and I still feel we might remedy those reasons.” If a suitable deal can be assembled and approved, the club could conceivably begin operation within 60 days.

“Actually, I think an agreement can be ironed out quickly,” said Atwell, who said he was participating in a “meeting of the minds” next week to reopen talks.

Atwell knows his way around the Vegas Monopoly board, no question. He helped work the deal to sell the land on the Strip where the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace now stands. He also negotiated the sale of the New Frontier land to Israeli conglomerate El-Ad Group for $1.24 billion (though Atwell had to file a lawsuit to be paid for his work on the sale).

It also happens that Atwell’s 93-year-old mother, Candy, is one of the Stirling Club members and Turnberry Place residents affected by its closing, as she frequently uses the residence’s spa and was in the club Friday night. Atwell himself is a regular at the club and has overcome throat cancer in the past two years to the point he uncorked a credible version of his favorite number, “Mustang Sally,” about an hour before the lounge closed.

More relevant is Atwell’s role as a real-estate broker and central figure in the Stirling Club’s viability since it was announced in February that the club was being closed, and the simplest way to explain why is that the Soffers felt it was too expensive to keep open. Even for those who never ventured into the Stirling Club, its financial woes are a clear indication of how the recession hit the Las Vegas real estate market, at all levels.

Since the February announcement, Atwell has been working on a sale of Stirling Club that would preclude the expected closing. At one point, an offer of $12.5 million to buy the venue and related amenities fell apart. And as recently as Friday afternoon, Atwell says, an offer to purchase the club for more than that $12.5 million, but not exceeding $14 million, was on the table and ready for approval. But the prospective buyer could not secure a majority decision among the Turnberry Place Master Homeowners’ Association to sell the club by the time it opened Friday night.

If the sale had been approved Friday afternoon, the plan was for Atwell and Stirling Club Manager Mike Saye to tell the crowd on hand during the expected final night of operation that the club would live on under new ownership. That would have been one boffo announcement. Instead, it was yet more bad news, as a majority among that body could not agree to terms of the potential sale.

“It was very depressing,” Atwell said. “We put a lot of energy into this deal.”

As the crowd dispersed through the front doors Friday night, a woman held up a Stirling Club gift bag, still in its clear-plastic wrapper. It was a keepsake, she said, as it is expected that even if the club reopens, it will be under another name. Atwell said a new name is possible, but what to call the place, at the moment, is not the concern.

“I don’t know of any other place like the Stirling Club,” Atwell said. “It’s a special, old-Vegas place. We’re proud of it, and we don’t want to see it closed.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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