City could soon begin negotiating transfer of Queen Mary land to Harbor Department

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday will consider giving the green light for the city to begin talks to transfer control of the Queen Mary and surrounding land to the Harbor Department, which oversees the Port of Long Beach.

The move is the next step as the city considers the Queen Mary’s future and how to fund millions of dollars in critical repairs for the historic ocean liner.

Long Beach City Manager Tom Modica said the negotiations could last anywhere from a few months to a year before the plan returns to the City Council and Harbor Commission for final approval.

“There’s a lot on the table,” he said.

Long Beach owns the Queen Mary but for decades has leased the ship to various operators that have met financial struggles.

The most recent operator, Urban Commons, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January following a barrage of financial problems. It gave up the lease in bankruptcy court in June, giving the city of Long Beach control over the ship’s daily operations for the first time in more than 40 years.

The city is hoping to develop the land surrounding the Queen Mary, known as Pier H, to draw more tourism dollars and officials have said the Harbor Commission is better positioned to handle the project.

The commission would then be responsible for overseeing the ship’s lease obligations for any new leaseholders, and could be faced with the tough decision of whether to put more money into repairing and maintaining the aging vessel.

An inspection report in April determined Queen Mary would need at least $23 million in critical repairs to remain viable in the next two years, while a marine survey released to the public in 2017 found that the ship could need around $285 million in critical repairs to stay viable.

The Harbor Department is part of the city but has its own budget, and the plan to transfer control of the ship has faced pushback from critics, including several port-related unions, who say the port is already committed to more than $1 billion in capital improvement projects.

The negations would include a proposed budget, funding sources and timeline for short and long-term repairs. 

The city in a July study session laid out several future options. Ideas include preserving the ship in place for a one-time cost of $25-$50 million, with ongoing costs of $5 million annually for more than 25 years. City officials said this option is costly up front, but those costs could be offset by tourism revenue.

Another option would be dry docking, which is the most longterm solution but also the priciest, with costs ranging from $200-$500 million.

A city-hired engineering consultant, Moffatt & Nichol, is expected to release a more detailed report on the ship’s condition in the coming weeks.

The Queen Mary in the meantime is expected to remain closed until 2022 as the city works on critical repairs.

The City Council will vote on matter in its regular meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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