At about 20 minutes to midnight, the quartet of female singers at Stirling Club swung into Earth Wind & Fire’s “September.” The song fit, though it’s not quite in the timeline for a New Year’s Eve party. But Kelly Clinton-Holmes, Elisa Fiorillo, Ashley Fuller and Kirbi Long sang it loud and proud as partiers grooved into the new year.
At my side, suddenly, was a man in a bow tie and a paisley-splashed, black-and-red jacket. Ronnie Rose! If you don’t know Ronnie, you should. He’s a Las Vegas lounge icon who can move a room and win a crowd, and the very man who closed the Stirling Club, the stately entertainment fortress, one night in May 2012.
Back then, Rose sent the conga line to the exits with Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” On New Year’s Eve, the showman and his backing band performed at Stirling Club lounge, toggling stage times with Clinton-Holmes’ disco-ABBA set list in the Stirling Room, the property’s main entertainment venue.
Later, Jalles Franca of “MJ Live” at the Stratosphere blazed through a medley of Michael Jackson songs, leading to the full-cast countdown to New Year’s Eve.
Many of the same faces, so many who had not been inside the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place for 6 1/2 years, re-ignited the building on NYE. More than 600 guests who paid $150 filed in for a shot to pop the cork and ushered in a new era for a regal property. Ronnie. Kelly. Clint Holmes, too, made this scene, presented as a preview of what’s to come this year at Stirling Club.
Also in the mix: Harrah’s headliner Mac King and his wife, Jennifer. Acclaimed Cirque du Soleil sculptor Richard MacDonald. Brendan Theaters head Johnny Brenden. Piero’s Italian Restaurant songstress Pia Zadora and her husband, Michael Jeffries. The terrific actor Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear” from the”Starsky & Hutch” 1970s TV series), and his wife, Sandra. My friend and colleague Norm Clarke and his wife, Cara, made the club’s revival, too.
New owner Richard Ditton was uncommonly flashy, donning in a gold-and-black jacket while moving carefully after double-knee replacement surgery. A former NASA software engineer, Ditton made his millions as co-founder of Incredible Technologies, a leading amusement-game corporation.
Ditton also a Turnberry Place resident, a tennis player (hence the wear-and-tear on his knees) who wanted to place to hang and was willing to pay $12.4 million to make it happen.
Ditton is also a dedicated supporter of the arts. He donated $79,000 from the New Year’s Eve take to the Public Educztion Foundation’s Artists For Kidz, the Las Vegas arts-development charity and a favorite of Clint Holmes. The number clearly stunned Holmes (he’d expected a $10,000 donation, tops), who from the asked Ditton to help decide how and where to spend this money.
“You are now part of Artists for Kidz, Richard,” Holmes said as the crowd cheered.
So Ditton is well-suited (really) to lord over Stirling Club. He explained his passion simply, saying, “Honestly, because I live here, I was looking down at the tennis courts that had been rotting over the last six years, and I wanted to get back on them. And, I wanted to be back in here partying again.”
Ditton need experienced assistance in this project, enlisting DK Hospitality President and Stirling Club President Debra Kelleher, Chief Operating Officer Michael Stapleton (who has run his own hospitality consulting business for more than 30 years) and administrative assistant Deidra Perry.
Stirling Club, for the unanointed, was once an uber-exclusive hovel for the well-heeled residents of Turnberry Place. I was there many nights for Clinton-Holmes’ late-night performances. Stirling Club is where I met Bob Anderson, Frankie Scinta, cast members of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and ‘The Producers,” Phyllis McGuire and the late Vegas casino legend Bob Stupak and on date night, comic legend Sammy Shore (he opened for Elvis at the International and Las Vegas Hilton), and hung with the late real-estate power player David Atwell. Michael Jackson held a business meeting in the club (talking of a never-realized Tom Jones was known to hang at the club. So were such a range of celebs as James Caan, Wayne Newton, George Hamilton, Lola Falana and — yes — O.J. Simpson, when visiting friends who lived at Turnberry.
Stirling Club went dark after the economy sank and dues-paying Turnberry Place residents started moved out, cutting off the club’s funding. A group of Silicon Valley investors bought the property in the fall of 2013, paying $10.4 million on a building that cost $44 million to construct in 2002. Residents had hoped to see it reopen, but the club idled for those six-plus years until Ditton finally made the purchase this spring during an online auction.
The NYE party was also a recruiting event for prospective Stirling Club members. For the first time, the club is offering memberships outside the Turnberry residents’ pool, listing memberships in six different categories. Dues range from $225-$335 per month after initiation fees (which start at $500 and top out at $3,000 for residents).
Turnberry residents are offered three tiers ranging from full access to all club amenities (pickelball fans will delight in that sport is among the offerings) to a “young executive” category, covering those between 21-40 years of age. “We have a plan that can make money for the club,” Stapleton said.
That plan allows for use of all dining areas and the spa, and access to Stirling Club Market, Juice Bar and Starbucks. All of those retail outlets (Starbucks in a licensing agreement with the parent company) are new to the club.
“We want to open it up to more than just the Turnberry residents,” Kelleher said. “So that people who live in Las Vegas and come from out of the state can also enjoy it.”
The work since last spring has been extensive, detailed and swiftly achieved. In March, Ditton remarked to me that he’d love to open on New Year’s Eve. “You have to start sometime,” he said at the time. That comment became binding, with the team working frantically so Ditton could keep his word.
Some of those widespread upgrades were still being enacted hours before the party — Stapleton was power-washing the porte-cochere on Monday morning. Paint-and-plaster work was finished less than 30 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. opening.
The result is obvisous, and still ongoing. Water effects have been added, the tennis courts restored, ceilings raised and old chandeliers taken out.
”It was like an Etch-A-Sketch,” Stapleton said. “We had to shake the whole thing … When you walk in now, it’s completely different.”
The place is crisp, new, clean but still has a regal air. There is a business model and a fresh feel throughout. Such upgrades as new furniture and additional affects are to be in place when the place throws its formal re-opening event. That will be between March and June. Ditton & Co. are not offering a specific date, at least not yet. They need to sweep up the confetti first.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.