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THE MOVABLE BUFFET

Trekkies soon will lose a starbase

August 17, 2008|Richard Abowitz | Special to The Times

I first saw Bill Lyons and his wife, Pam, dragging a suitcase behind them like any tourists and followed them because I thought they would lead me to the convention I was covering. I did not say to them, "I am from Earth. Take me to your leader." But maybe I should have.

The Lyonses both were dressed as otherworldly characters from the movie "Star Trek: Insurrection." "My character doesn't have a name," Pam Lyons said. "I am a skin-stretching specialist." The movie came out in 1998, the year Star Trek: The Experience opened at the Las Vegas Hilton. Since then the franchise has fallen on hard times. The most recent movie was in 2003, and the last "Star Trek"-themed television show ended in 2005.

For fans there is a new "Star Trek" movie scheduled to come out in 2009, but Vegas is not a town with patience, and so by 2009, to the consternation of a lot of the convention attendees, this annual "Star Trek" convention will have to take place without what has come to be known informally as the Star Trek Experience ride at the Las Vegas Hilton. Perhaps even more important, the convention (which concluded last Sunday) is losing its informal headquarters: Quark's bar. The "Star Trek"-themed bar and restaurant are next door to the ride and are an unofficial hangout central for convention attendees. Both the bar and ride are closing at the end of the month.

On Sept. 1, one of the most successful tourist rides here will be "decommissioned" after more than a decade, twice as long as the USS Enterprise's five-year mission on the original television series. The convention grew from a modest affair at places like the Plaza downtown to a convention that attracted thousands with the arrival of the Experience.

For some years the convention and the ride were at different resorts. "The people that own the Experience were slow to embrace us, but when we finally went to the Hilton," recalled Gary Berman, co-chief executive of the convention's parent company, Creation Entertainment, the take from those who attended the ride, bought souvenirs and ate at Quark's was greater than the Experience had enjoyed before the convention.

Berman expects the ending of the Hilton's "Star Trek" attractions to have a minimal effect on the convention. And he estimated that the average age of the attendees this year was in the late 40s -- a perfect demographic for a casino. He estimated attendance this year at 10,000 to 13,000. The convention has a contract to be at the Hilton next year too.

Among dedicated fans, the Trekkies occupy a special niche. In addition to the usual collection of actors and panels, this year's confab included a fan costume contest accompanied by "Star Trek" music performed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Most of the casinos that hosted the "Star Trek" convention before the Hilton, such as the Hacienda, are no longer standing. Berman thinks that, in the end, the enduring popularity of "Star Trek" will win out and the convention will retain its draw in Vegas, if not at its current location.

But to many "Star Trek" fans, spending time on the Experience ride is a large part of what makes this event special. The Experience is more than a hydraulic ride on a fake spaceship with a crew of actors. The actors wander Quark's restaurant, allowing Vegas tourists to try out their Klingon and pose for a photo with a Borg.

In the food court, friends and regular convention attendees Mitchell Johnson, Lawrence D. DeSoto and Diane Diamond were not so sure they would be back next year.

According to DeSoto, 34, who was dressed as a resident of the planet Bajor and had been at this convention six times before: "Vegas is nice, but what made this convention special was the Experience. Honestly, without the Experience, everybody is thinking of not going next year and saving money for Comic-Con in San Diego."

His friend Diamond added, "This [Star Trek: The Experience] makes the difference between a good and great Con experience. It is not going to be the same without the ride."

Bill Lyons says: "It is sad to lose the ride. But we will probably be back next year." As for the years after that, "We are hoping to get our grandchildren interested in 'Star Trek.' "

The future of the space (not outer space but physical) is unclear. A Hilton spokesperson said that only preliminary thought has been put into what will replace the ride, museum and restaurant, which will take until at least December to be removed.

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For more of what's happening on and off the Strip, see latimes.com/movablebuffet.

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