The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved $2.5 million in funding for the Queen Mary to help plan for critical repair work and operations over the next six months as the city considers the aging vessel’s future.

Long Beach last week took over daily operations of the ship for the first time in more than 40 years after its operator, Eagle Hospitality Trust, chose to give up the lease in Delaware bankruptcy court. Long Beach owns the Queen Mary but for decades has leased the ship to a string of operators who have struggled financially.

With the ship in its control, the city is now tasked with deciding how much to invest in critical repairs. An inspection report in April determined the ship would need at least $23 million in repairs to remain viable in the next two years.  

Councilwoman Cindy Allen, whose 2nd District includes the Queen Mary, said the initial funding is the first step to saving the ship.

“It’s going to be absolutely critical that we continue regular operations and maintenance on the ship as we take back ownership for the first time in decades,” she said.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the city now has a unique opportunity to focus on short and longterm plans for its historic icon.

“Preservation has to be at the center of what we do moving forward,” he said.

The plan includes $500,000 from Tidelands Critical Infrastructure funds as part of a contract with engineering firm Moffatt & Nichols to begin testing and planning for safety projects. The ship will need a minimum of $5 million to cover immediate repairs as the city works to identify other funding sources, officials said.

Third District Council Member Suzie Price was the lone council member to express her concerns. While Price said she would vote for the immediate funding to keep operations running, she had concerns about the longterm costs and use of Tidelands funds or taxpayer dollars to maintain the ship.

The council, she said, will have to make tough choices this year.

“There is no doubt that the queen is an icon for the city of Long Beach,” she said. “But the cost of true historic preservation of this ship is significant and it is an unrealistic expenditure for the city at this time.”

The five top safety projects include: a bilge pump system to pump out water in the event of flooding in the ship’s hull; an alarm system for water intrusion; bulkhead testing and repairs; removal of about two dozen corded lifeboats; and a new electrical generator.

Economic Development Director John Keisler in a presentation said the ship’s hull is not currently leaking but is in need of an early warning system to prevent bigger problems.

“The faster we move the more we can prevent,” he said.

Depending on construction bids, costs and funding, Keisler said the city is hopeful it can complete the five crucial safety projects by the end of the year and reopen the ship. The Queen Mary in the meantime remains closed until further notice. 

The city expects to have a better estimate of repair costs and funding sources that it will present to the city council next month.

The funding also includes a $2 million contract with Evolution Hospitality, a third-party contractor that has managed the ship’s daily operations for the past decade. The contract is for six months with the option to renew and will cover monthly utility fees, security, landscaping and other costs to keep the one-million-square-foot facility running.

Eagle Hospitality Trust filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January with a total of more than $500 million in debt. The ship’s lease was set to go to auction but did not receive any bidders, while the city had been locked in a legal battle with former operator Urban Commons over a litany of failed lease obligations.

A marine survey released in 2017 found that the ship could need nearly $300 million in critical repairs to stay viable over the next several years. The city that year issued $23 million in bonds and Tidelands funds to former operator Urban Commons to fix some of the most critical repairs listed in the marine survey, but the funds ran out before many of the repairs were completed.

And now, a report from a city-hired naval architecture and marine engineering firm called Elliott Bay Design Group, which inspected the ship on April 28, says the vessel is vulnerable to flooding or possibly even capsizing if critical work isn’t addressed.