Bridge to Trekkies: Sorry, we’re closing

LAS VEGAS — Renewing their wedding vows on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, Karen and Eric Klein heard from a Federation captain that "the energy between them created their love."

Like the Kleins, thousands of fans of the "Star Trek" movie and television franchise are converging on Las Vegas to send off the 10-year-old attraction Star Trek: The Experience, which closes Monday with a decommissioning ceremony.

"He had his own schtick, and it was very beautiful, and it actually made the moment even that much better," said Eric Klein, 39, still holding his wife's hand outside the gift shop. "It wasn't simply being on the bridge, it really felt very emotional."

The Las Vegas attraction has drawn more than 3 million visitors since it opened in 1998, as many as 2,000 per hour, a spokesman said. It offers a place to inhabit all six versions of a television franchise that spanned almost four decades and spawned 10 movies. Trekkies have long attended annual conventions, but many feel a special affinity with the Experience.

"We've got people flying in from all over the world," said Chad Boutte, the attraction's spokesman.

Visitors get to quiz employees dressed as aliens on the mythologies of their worlds. They also can pay $49.99 to enjoy two virtual rides and check out the Museum of the Future, which includes costumes, "phasers" and Mr. Spock's coffin, as seen in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

Some are coming this week to be "beamed up" and walk the halls of the ship from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" one last time. Others seek a final encounter with the Borg, the show's race of organic robot aliens. And still others just want to share a farewell drink — likely a stiff, rum-based Warp Core Breach — with fellow fans.

The Kleins, from Easton, Pa., about 70 miles west of New York, had planned to renew their vows on their 10th anniversary but came four years early.

"Because they were closing, we decided to do it now," said Karen Klein, 38. "It's really a shame. And from the people we talk to, staff and people alike, it seems that everybody's kind of puzzled why it's closing, because it seems very popular."

Indeed, the television shows are still in syndication, and another movie, a prequel called "Star Trek," is due in theaters in eight months. And the Experience stands out even in a city packed with acrobats, comedians, magicians and musicians.

But the attraction's owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., and the Las Vegas Hilton, its landlord, couldn't agree on terms for a new lease. The two worked as a typical landlord and retail tenant, with Cedar Fair keeping all revenue from the attraction, said hotel spokesman Ira David Sternberg.

Trekkies are incensed. They've scrawled reminiscences about the exhibit and laments about losing it in notes on walls inside the attraction. They're calling the hotel and exhibit offices to complain.

And their online message boards are rife with speculation on what will happen to the Experience and the space it occupied. The most popular rumor — unfounded, Sternberg said — is that the space will be refurbished as a theater for pop star Michael Jackson.

Sternberg said officials don't know yet how the space will be used. The lease ends Dec. 31, but it will take four months to disassemble the model ships, strip away the starry sky and return the props-turned-artifacts to Paramount Pictures Corp., which owns the franchise.

"There's a tremendous amount of sadness, as you can imagine. This is a place that no one wants to end, including our employees," Boutte said. "It goes beyond just a great group of staff. It's a group of people who've invested everything they had to make this as realistic and special as possible."

The exhibit folds itself into the mythology of the show, calling itself a "21st-century time station" used to transport personnel and equipment to and from the late 24th century. The story is that the Experience lets folks of the future meet and study many human cultures in a single place where they often converge.

The Las Vegas Hilton, which runs a space-themed casino just outside the attraction, has invested more than $100 million since 2004 to rejuvenate a property that had been "lying stagnant," Sternberg said. The lobby, guest rooms, sports book and entertainment all have been upgraded, he said.

Next year's Star Trek convention — run by Creation Entertainment, which puts on several other similar events — will take place at the Hilton, but a deal has not been reached for 2010.

Boutte said he's receiving calls — 25 in a single day this week, he said — from people interested in buying some or all of the Experience and reopening it elsewhere.

"We had to come in one more time before it went away," said visitor Ruth Acres, 48, of Houston, who has toured the exhibit several times since 2005 and spent six days at the attraction on her final trip.

She first visited only because a friend recommended the Warp Core Breach drink at Quark's, the attraction's restaurant — named after the star base hotspot on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

"We were just crying, we were so sad. We come to this hotel for this," Acres said.

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