Monday, August 17, 2009

Exclusive Versace Mansion to Open Doors for Night Club

The most famous building in South Beach, the Versace mansion, makes plans to open a night club. What is the handsome entry fee? $50, $100 or more? It's anyone's guess. If the Fountainbleau's LIV club charges $50, well we may have an idea.

Below is the article from the Miami Herald by Douglas D Hanks announcing the developing plans:

The former Gianni Versace mansion, once the most exclusive address on Ocean Drive, will become South Beach's newest nightclub.

Opening up Casa Casuarina's famously roped-off front gate to the party circuit is the most dramatic change planned by the mansion's new operator, which took over two weeks ago. A high-end Italian restaurant is also in the works.

The breezy 20,000-square-foot hideaway that Versace transformed from a rundown apartment house into the center of South Beach's budding celebrity party scene became a regular haunt of Madonna and other A-list stars. Three years after the fashion icon died from a serial killer's bullet on home's front steps in 1997, telecommunications magnate Peter Loftin transformed it into a private club. He later added a boutique hotel and a small restaurant.

Scott Rothstein, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and investor, bought a stake in the property from Loftin under a deal closed two weeks ago that gives Rothstein control of operations.
Rothstein's team is converting the cloistered rooms and courtyards throughout the mansion into Bova@Casa Casuarina. The concept is modeled after the Bova Ristorante chain in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton where Rothstein is a partner with chef and owner Tony Bova.

``The place has an amazing vibe just waiting to be released,'' said Rothstein, who held a three-day wedding at Casa Casuarina in January 2008. ``Right now the problem is it's caught in between from where it was and where it wants to be.''

The restaurant-nightclub hybrid marks the biggest retreat yet from Loftin's original vision for the mansion, which he bought in 2000 for $19 million. Loftin's plan was to cater to the elite; memberships sold for $35,000.

But time and a sagging economy seemed to dilute that exclusivity through the years. In 2005 Loftin transformed Versace's second floor into a 10-bedroom hotel -- giving vacationers the chance to sleep amid the velvet bedspreads and nymph frescoes that the fashion designer favored.

Last summer, Loftin opened up the grounds to paid tours. He also invited the public into the club's restaurant, allowing any paying customer past the gates. Now attendants routinely stand out front offering menus to passer-by -- many of them snapping shots of where Versace died, considered the most photographed location in South Beach.

Rothstein said Casa remains profitable, largely through catering and rental income. He said the private club will continue under Bova, with parts of the mansion reserved for members and special members-only events. And only members will be able to drop by the restaurant scheduled to open two months from now; everyone else will need a reservation, he said.
Casa Causarina customers will dine on Italian food throughout the mansion's cloistered rooms and elaborately tiled court yard, serving 170 people in one seating. But as the evening turns to morning, the plan is to transform most of the grounds and building into a night club.
That won't be a new experience for some, given the mansion's current status as a popular, pricey venue for private parties. But for many -- particularly tourists -- the shift will mean entry into one of South Florida's most legendary party spots.

And it could help Loftin fortify the property amid a punishing downturn in corporate spending and luxury travel -- two key revenue sources for Casa Casuarina.

``It's got to be really tough,'' said Victor Lopez, a hotel consultant and former top executive for Hyatt, which owns the Hotel Victor next door. ``The smaller you are, the tougher it is.''
Miami Herald columnist Joan Fleischman contributed to this report.