Longform

Building a Better Nightclub

Page 3 of 4

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.

There were "a lot of obstacles" while building Nocturnal, Kofman acknowledged. "A bad contractor at the beginning, a bad designer at the beginning. Not necessarily bad publicity, but a lot of negative responses. Even people I know who were helping me were saying, öThis is too difficult.' öHow can you do this?' öThis is a tough project.' öYou should put your money somewhere else.' But I'm the kind of guy where, if I start something, I finish it."

On August 1, 2003, several months after Kofman split with his original partners, he hired Bob Jones as his consultant. The 34-year-old Jones was managing a steak-and-seafood restaurant in Fredericksburg, Virginia, when Hunter Group South, a consortium of nightclub owners, hired him in 1997 as operations manager for Salvation, a club at 1771 West Ave. in South Beach. Salvation was shuttered in 1999, but Jones moved on, first as operations manager for Level, then general manager for Space, and finally general manager for Rain.

Most club owners who purchase a building simply renovate the interior, but the old 50 NE Eleventh St. warehouse was built of wood, making it potentially unsafe for a rowdy crowd of a thousand dancers. So Kofman had devised a plan to make Nocturnal from scratch by completely demolishing the warehouse's insides, knocking down its back wall and part of its front wall, and destroying its rooftop and floor base, leaving nothing but a hollow frame.

When Jones joined Kofman's management team, the walls had been rebuilt. "The building was about ... only ten percent completed," he said. But other aspects of the construction process were driving costs over budget. "It was a really great project," he said. "But some of the pricing of things seemed out of line ... it seemed as if they were spending a little more money than was necessary." Three months after Kofman took him on as a consultant, Jones was named the new general manager; he subsequently recommended Sokoloff, whom he knew from the local nightlife scene.

Problems that emerged once construction restarted in January 2004 were minor. During September 2004, for example, Miami-Dade County announced hurricane warnings in anticipation of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Even though the storms missed Miami, construction was suspended for nearly a month.

Then in early October, Sokoloff recalled, Telesco Associates, an award-winning contractor that had built Opium Garden and crobar, reported that it couldn't find enough concrete to continue. "Building materials can be a hassle like that," he said, adding that high demand for hurricane-protection materials caused a brief scarcity. "It's one of those things you don't even count on," he added. "You think that when you need concrete, you make a phone call and the concrete truck rolls up." The shortage delayed construction for two weeks.

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Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves