For the first time in more than 40 years, Long Beach is once more in full control of the Queen Mary — along with the surrounding 40 acres of parks, cruise terminals and parking lots.
The ship’s operator, Urban Commons Queensway, LLC, surrendered its lease for the vessel on Friday, June 4, which means the oversight and management of the historic ocean liner has now returned to Long Beach.
While Long Beach has long owned the Queen Mary, it has contracted out management of the ship to various third-party firms over the years, most recently, to Urban Commons Queensway in 2016. The city hasn’t had control over the day-to-day operations since 1978.
The decision by Urban Commons Queensway to forgo its 66-year lease on the ship was part of an ongoing bankruptcy case that the operator filed earlier this year, along with more than two dozen other related companies.
It was unclear until Friday whether the lease would be auctioned off to another entity as part of the bankruptcy proceedings or if Long Beach would be able to decide the ship’s future.
Mayor Robert Garcia said in a Friday statement that Urban Commons Queensway’s decision to give up its lease provides a new opportunity for the ship and for the city.
“We will be fully engaged in the preservation of this historic landmark,” he said, “and are incredibly grateful for this opportunity.”
The change in operations comes as the Queen Mary faces millions of dollars worth of urgent repair work.
A marine survey conducted in 2015, the year before Urban Commons Queensway took over the lease, found that the total cost of ship repairs could range from $235 million to $289 million.
But multiple inspections in recent years have called into question how much progress Urban Commons Queensway has made on that work. Most recently, an April inspection found that there were more than $23 million worth of “immediate repair needs.”
“While a few repairs have been completed in the last 5 years, the majority of the urgent repair needs were not addressed,” the inspection report said. The design group that surveyed the ship, the inspection report said, “confirmed urgent repairs are still needed to keep the vessel viable for the next two years.”
When Long Beach OK’d the lease with Urban Commons Queensway in 2016, the city provided $23 million toward the cause, while the firm sought to find additional funding.
And now, as the company leaves the ship, the city is still investing in that work. The City Council is set to vote at its Tuesday, June 8, meeting whether to authorize $500,000 in Tidelands Critical Infrastructure funds to begin testing and design work for some the most critical repairs, including lifeboat removal, installing an emergency generator and water intrusion warning systems.
City staff, meanwhile, expect to come back to the panel at a later date with funding options for the repair work itself on the most critical needs, which are currently estimated to cost at least $5 million.
The Queen Mary has been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a city statement on Friday said the ship will remain closed until the repair work is finished, “as it is faster and more cost efficient to complete this work when there are no visitors present.”
While Long Beach touted on Friday what its full control will mean for the ship, that independence likely won’t last long.
The City Council is set to vote at its Tuesday, June 8, meeting on a $2 million contract with Evolution Hospitality, which has served as a third-party contractor to help manage the ship’s day-to-day operations over the past 11 years. Unlike the agreement with Urban Commons Queensway, though, the contract will only last for six months, with the option to renew for another six months if necessary. As part of the proposed agreement, Long Beach will hire John Thomas, a longtime historic consultant for the Queen Mary, to oversee the ship’s preservation.
And the Port of Long Beach, at the city’s request, is still assessing the possibility of taking ownership of the Queen Mary back from the city; the port controlled the ship until 1993, when Long Beach took over. The Port expects to return to the City Council with a report on the idea later this summer, according to a city statement.
While the port determines what regaining ownership could look like, the City Council will also likely hold a study session to discuss how best to preserve the ship, though that date has not yet been released.
Regardless of who owns and manages the ship, though, Long Beach appears committed to safeguarding its future.
“I am excited about this once in a generation opportunity to set the course for future preservation and development of our City’s icon,” Councilmember Cindy Allen, whose Second District includes the Queen Mary property, said in a statement. “This is a chance to enhance our stewardship of the Queen Mary, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to lead the upcoming discussions.
“We know this is a big undertaking,” she added, “and we are committed to doing right by our community who hold the Queen Mary dear in their hearts.”
Source: Orange County Register