In 2016, the city budgeted $200,000 to fix the Queen Mary’s fire safety system as part of many critical repairs.
Two years later, that budget ballooned to $5.29 million to fix an outdated sprinkler system that apparently hadn’t been touched in decades. The ship’s fire hazard was so worrisome that firefighters ramped up response times and launched a 24-hour fire watch until the repairs were done.
The fire system upgrade is just one of several projects that have gone over budget as new operator Urban Commons, which signed a 66-year lease for the Queen Mary in 2016, works to repair the aging vessel.
From standing water to paint chips and sewage leaks, renovating an old ship is costly, but Dan Zaharoni, Urban Commons’ chief development officer, said the company anticipates extra costs.
“We’ve definitely had some challenges, but you’re dealing with an 82-year-old ship that’s historical in nature, so you can’t just open up the walls,” he said. “The good news is that we’ve managed through some of the more significant challenges and the ship is now safer and more structurally sound than it has been in probably 50 years.”
As part of the lease agreement, the city has allocated $23 million to fix some of the most critical repairs listed in a 2015 marine survey. The marine survey projected costs of up to $289 million for urgent repairs over the next five years—a number Urban Commons disputes.
In a project update on Tuesday, city officials said most of the critical repair work has been done, but other projects have been sidelined as the $23 million runs out this year.
While the ship is in better shape, operators are dealing with many unanticipated costs, Zaharoni said.
The fire sprinkler system, for example, had been neglected for decades and was a serious safety hazard, Zaharoni said.
“We were shocked to see how it was so grossly outdated,” he said. “That was our top priority because we’re dealing with the safety of our visitors and guests.”
Other costs include:
- $5.97 million for roofing and deck repair. The original estimate was $2.13 million, but the project was set back by a 2017 winter storm that caused major water damage.
- $2.8 million for hull paint and rust repair (original estimate was $1.7 million).
- $475,500 for leaking side tanks (original estimate was $250,000).
Urban Commons has agreed to fund the rest of the repairs, but as a private developer, it doesn’t have to say how much it’s putting in or where it’s getting the money.
The ship’s monthly inspection reports from a city-hired independent contractor note both progress and concerns.
In a January report, the inspector said the engineering department was grossly understaffed.
“…it is illogical to expect that all the necessary maintenance of the property can be accomplished with that staff size,” he wrote. “Rather, it is clear that maintenance will be deferred at a greater rate and the condition of the property will continue to decline.”
In another report, he said raccoons were living in an abandoned submarine next to the ship.
While there are challenges, Zaharoni said, the ship has made much progress.
Among the updates, the ship has seen extensive structural repairs to the M and A decks, allowing for the Ghosts and Legends attraction to reopen. The final smokestack is getting a new paint job and the hull has been restored to its original colors.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done so far,” he said. “I think we’ve turned the Queen Mary into a much more inviting destination.”
The renovation is part of a larger plan to develop the 64-acre waterfront as a premiere entertainment destination. Zaharoni said plans are expected to be finalized with the city by the end of the year, with a projected grand opening for 2023.
Revenue from the future development will fund ongoing repairs and renovations, he added.
For now, the city has footed the bill for the repairs with $23 million in bonds, which it expects to repay within the next seven years.
Mary Rohrer, who runs a nonprofit focused on restoring the ship, said the Queen Mary has suffered under previous leaseholders who didn’t have the ship’s best interest at heart.
“I think my biggest upset is that the city of Long Beach has never really treated it as a wholly-owned city asset,” she said.
As for the repairs, she said she’s happy with what she sees so far.
“It looks 100 percent better,” she said. “We’re heading in the right direction. I just hope the momentum continues.”
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