Building a Better Nightclub

Can the developers of a new superbar keep the dance floor packed?

In 1994, he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Initially, he planned for a career in pharmaceutical research, but the more he looked into the field, the more he realized he'd have to earn several degrees and use industry connections to get a decent job. "What's the next best job?" he asked rhetorically. "Working the counter at Walgreens! And I can't do that." He dropped out of college after his sophomore year.

Not sure what his career path would be, Kofman had found the answer while still in college after a friend gave him a motivational tape. The tape, which was about long-distance and network marketing, explained how one could make money by selling long-distance telephone service: Sign up twenty people, and recruit three sales agents under you. When the agents sign up customers for you, you get a percentage of their sales. Concurrently when they enlist more employees, you get a percentage of the new agents' sales, too. Much like a telemarketing firm, the system creates a revenue base by cultivating, and profiting from, an ambitious staff. "It's a pyramid scheme, all the way down," said Kofman.

"I liked what the [tape] sold," he continued, noting that he was impressed by the potential of its concepts. "Sell electricity, sell gas, sell phone, cable. All that's a utility, meaning there's a month-to-month need for it. You always need it. It applies to every consumer."

Today, Nocturnal is nothing more than wood, steel, and concrete
photos by Jonathan Postal
Today, Nocturnal is nothing more than wood, steel, and concrete
Nocturnal's interior: only one-half of a crystal ball
Jonathan Postal
Nocturnal's interior: only one-half of a crystal ball

So in 1995 when he was just nineteen, Kofman created Globcom Inc. in the Northbrook suburb of Chicago. Globcom is a telecommunications carrier that purchases the right to use MCI's phone lines and to sell local phone and DSL service directly to consumers. It targets suburban families looking for an alternative to the major phone companies. Today, Kofman estimates that his company is worth $50 million and operates in all 50 states. "The key to growth in any business is marketing," he said when asked how Globcom Inc. ballooned so quickly. "That's something I do well. I know niche markets."

Despite a few bumps in the road -- in 2003, the FCC fined Globcom several hundred thousand dollars for failing to pay enough back taxes -- Kofman's ride to the top has been fast and smooth, and he displays the confidence and near-cockiness one might expect to see in a guy who struck it rich before the tender age of 30.

"It's something I've never done," he said of his foray into the world of nightclub ownership. "It's completely outside telecommunications. But I believe I can open up any business. Nightclubs, clothing stores, restaurants -- they all have the same concept in mind, which is the business of accounting, marketing, and sales. How I approach it is, it's all about hiring the right people."

Here's how the idea for Nocturnal took shape: Kofman often vacationed in Miami, he said, and the city's vibrant nightlife led him to look for investment opportunities here. He honed in on the burgeoning Park West neighborhood in the downtown area, and the block between NE Eighth Street and NE Eleventh Street in particular. He also wanted to take advantage of the 24-hour liquor licenses the City of Miami has been offering to entrepreneurs who build nightclubs, supper clubs, and bars in Park West to help create a thriving entertainment district. Hopefully, said Kofman, Nocturnal will become the first piece in a patchwork of businesses he'll own throughout the area.

In July 2002, Kofman bought the warehouse at 50 NE Eleventh St., paying $910,000 for the property. In addition, he bought a stake in a second warehouse at 90 NE Eleventh St., with plans to convert it into a nightclub as well. (He later sold his interest in that property.)

Another story involves Kofman's former partners. In a separate interview, club director Sokoloff explained that these one-time associates, not Kofman himself, were the inspiration for Nocturnal. "The club kind of started like most clubs start," he said. "Most clubs start because there's a guy -- or guys -- who've been in the club business, who have some know-how, but don't have money and want to open a club.

"Then there's a guy with money," he continued, referring to Kofman. "They all form a partnership and open a club. And that's how [Nocturnal] started. There were two guys who came down here and had the idea to do this."

According to Florida Department of State Division of Corporation records, the partners included Chris Mingilino and Philip Arnoni, who co-owned a Chicago nightclub called Nocturnal. (Other men listed on the records include Robert J. Verberg II and Joe Vitale.) In separate phone interviews, both Mingilino and Arnoni confirmed that they had been part of the Nocturnal Miami project but declined to comment further. Kofman himself acknowledged that he had a few early partners but refused to disclose their names or the extent of their involvement.

At any rate, Kofman parted ways with them by spring 2003. "I ended that relationship real quick," he noted, "because obviously they really didn't know what they were doing."

Construction came to a halt, and the project foundered. Progress did not resume until January 2004.

Sokoloff also suggested that the Chicago club owners, not Kofman, were to blame for Nocturnal's early problems. "There were design issues -- they really hadn't thought out the design -- and they had construction issues. They had all kinds of shit wrong," he said, and the relationship ended badly.

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