Gondola project feasibility study could be presented to City Council as early as 2021

The global pandemic has postponed a number of high profile events and projects in Long Beach and abroad, but a proposed gondola system appears to be moving forward and could be back in front of the City Council as early as next year.

Known as “The Wave,” the gondola system was pitched to the City Council in March 2019 as a way to potentially connect Downtown to the Queen Mary and surrounding hotels via gondola. The project is projected to cost between $80 million and $100 million, however, the city is not anticipated to play a large part in financing it.

The council vote in 2019 gave the group behind the project approval to seek out a feasibility study and now it’s in the process of accumulating the capital to pay for that study, one that’s expected to cost about $500,000.

Clay Sandidge, a co-developer for the project, said a memo from the city’s director of economic development John Keisler that was released this week has given the group the ammunition it needed to move forward with the study because it showed the positivity surrounding it from community stakeholders.

Injecting more optimism into the idea of an urban gondola system being constructed in Long Beach is the fact that a similar project intended to carry fans from Union Station in Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium is now in the environmental review process.

Sandidge said he’s not worried about securing funding, which he said could come from a mix of private sources and grants.

The preliminary design shows the first station somewhere near the Long Beach Convention Center then a second near the Aquarium of the Pacific before shooting across Rainbow Harbor and ending at the Queen Mary.

The project was proposed to the council months before the financial problems of the current Queen Mary operator, Urban Commons, were unearthed. It’s unclear if Queen Mary Island, a $250 million proposed overhaul of the space surrounding the ship into an entertainment destination, will go forward.

That project was pushed back by at least two years in 2019.

However, Sandidge said that the development of the land was never a real driver for the viability of the gondola, which would rely on existing traffic to hotels, Carnival Cruise ships and the Queen Mary itself.

Sandidge said the group is exploring possibly having a station at or near the transit terminal on 1st Street to connect Blue Line riders with the gondola system.

The question of who would own and operate it has yet to be answered. The group could reach out to Los Angeles Metro as a potential partner but it could also try to bring in Long Beach Transit.

“I think that’s a big question mark,” Sandidge said. “I think these are some of the key aspects that will come out of this feasibility study.”

While Keisler noted in the memo that the group was advised to seek private funding for the study and initial project management, a public-private partnership could be pursued.

Sandidge said the project could be a major driver for an economic rebound in the city. Getting it actually built could take as little as 12-18 months, Sandidge said.

“But I think realistically it’s going to have to be privately funded to get it into the ground,” he said.

However, given that the project would require building across and securing land regulated by a number of agencies including the California Coastal Commission and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, a potential groundbreaking could still be years away. He’s still hopeful that it could be operational by the time the 2028 Olympics come to Long Beach.

The group is aiming for a start date of the feasibility study sometime this spring. If it does move forward with the study it would likely come back to the City Council to present a scope of that study, which the council and the public could have a voice in shaping.

It would likely look at a number of things including the cost of a ticket and how to protect privacy of residents while operating an aerial tram. Sandidge said the group hopes that the study could be ready to present its findings to the council as soon as the fall of 2021.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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