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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman
 

Vanishing at warp speed

2 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It's as official as an entry in the Captain's Log.

Star Trek: The Experience will end its 11-year run at the Las Vegas Hilton on Sept. 1.

The demise of the attraction had been rumored for months, but it wasn't until this week that managers told about 160 workers the lease at the Hilton won't be renewed.

The announcement likely means one final surge of Star Trek fans on Las Vegas and after that an outer-spacelike void when it comes to finding a complete science-fiction theme experience in Sin City.

The Official Star Trek Convention is Aug. 6-10 at the Hilton, just three weeks before the attraction closes. Enthusiasts already expect an attendance boost from fans making one last pilgrimage.

"We are going to have our flood of fans returning," said Chad Boutte, marketing director for the attraction. "Over the last three days, I've responded to over 570 e-mails from fans alone."

In May, officials at Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which holds the lease, acknowledged they didn't have a new lease in place even though the existing 10-year agreement expires Dec. 31. But they stopped short of saying they planned to move out.

Now that negotiations for a new lease are officially done, CBS Consumer Products, which owns the Star Trek name and the set pieces and costumes used in the Experience, is free to shop around for new ways to market the merchandise.

Leslie Ryan, a representative of CBS, left open the possibility the attraction isn't dead, just dormant.

"I know they are definitely investigating other Las Vegas possibilities," Ryan said.

No one from the three organizations involved -- Cedar Fair, the Hilton or CBS -- took responsibility for the attraction's demise.

Fans of the show and employees suggested it was the Hilton that didn't want to renew the lease. They suspect Hilton officials think they can use the real estate for something more lucrative than an attraction that even some fans admit had grown tired after a decade.

Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg, however, implied it was Cedar Fair that pulled the plug.

"I think it was really a decision from their end, not a decision from our end," he said.

Sternberg said the hotel management hadn't made plans for the space because they wanted a final decision from Cedar Fair.

"I think you can have almost anything in that space," he said.

Tickets to Star Trek: The Experience were listed for $44.99 on the attraction's Web site Tuesday. The passes buy access to two interactive rides that use film clips and sound to combine Star Trek fantasies with a Las Vegas backdrop.

In addition, there is a Star Trek Museum called History of the Future that includes more than 200 items and is billed as the largest collection of Star Trek props and costumes in the world.

Retail stores sell Star Trek T-shirts, action figures, costumes and artwork. Wedding packages from $350 to $3,000 are available.

A restaurant called Quark's Bar and Grill, named after a character from the Star Trek series "Deep Space Nine," is an unofficial hangout for local fans.

"I'm sorry to see it go. My hopes were that it would change and evolve," said Anthony Pascale, editor-in-chief for the Web site TrekMovie.com.

Pascale said the decision to shut down the attraction will have ramifications beyond 'Trekkies,' a term used to describe fans of the franchise.

"Some Trekkies would certainly go out of their way to go to Las Vegas," Pascale said. "It would (also) influence their decision on what hotel to stay at."

The annual Star Trek convention at the Hilton will remain, despite the closing of the Experience.

Adam Malin, co-CEO for Creation Entertainment of Glendale, Calif., which owns the convention, said the shutdown of the Experience is disappointing, but also an opportunity. Convention organizers in the past have included admission to the Experience in the ticket price for their event.

"That is going to literally give us a huge operating budget to create other kinds of evening entertainment," said Malin, who said the convention usually attracts 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Fans have a new Star Trek movie to look forward to in 2009 and there is still a traveling Star Trek exhibit that tours the country.

As a result, demands for letter-writing campaigns and other demonstrations in support of the attraction haven't matched the intensity of past campaigns by outraged Star Trek fans.

"There isn't the same kind of feeling as when the last show got canceled," Pascale said. "Don't expect people to try and chain themselves to the door."