City Council to consider transferring control of Queen Mary land to commission that oversees port

Three councilmembers are asking the city to transfer control and operation of the coastal land that houses Queen Mary and Carnival Cruise Lines to the commission charged with overseeing the Port of Long Beach.

The announcement Monday evening by Councilwoman Cindy Allen’s office adds a new twist to problems surrounding the Queen Mary, whose private operator, hired by the city, is in bankruptcy. The lease to the ship is set to be auctioned on May 20.

Officials, including Allen and Councilwoman Suzie Price, who co-sponsored the item, could not immediately be reached for comment. It is not clear whether the problems surrounding the ship had anything to do with the decision to request a change in who oversees the ship and other assets in that area from the City Council to the Harbor Commission.

A memo from the city attorney’s office released Monday, dated March 10, outlines the timeline of the land and some of the issues around a possible transfer of Pier H, a 231-acre area that includes the ship, Carnival cruise terminals, Hotel Maya, the Residence Inn, Reef Restaurant and Harry Bridges Memorial Park, which is used as event space for concerts.

Pier H was controlled by the Harbor Department until 1992, when it transferred the land to the city in order to develop the area as a tourist destination, according to the memo. The land can be transferred back because it now includes a cruise ship terminal, which is considered primarily a port use, and the port’s most recent master plan also places importance on developing visitor-serving and recreation uses in the harbor area.

Additionally, the transfer would make operation and control of the area more efficient, as the city and port both currently have jurisdiction over aspects of Pier H, the memo from City Attorney Charles Parkin’s office said.

“Under the guidance of our Harbor Commissioners, who understand the local cultural significance of the Queen Mary and the regional significance of this development opportunity, the team at the Port is well-equipped to develop Pier H and secure the future of the important amenities and economic activities at this Pier for our community,” Allen said in the press release.

The Long Beach Economic Development Department currently oversees operations for Pier H on behalf of the city. The department was newly established in 2017, after the city began lease negotiations with operator Urban Commons, which signed a 66-year lease to take over operation of the Queen Mary in 2016.

In 2019, Urban Commons created a real estate investment trust called Eagle Hospitality to sell stock on the Singapore Stock Exchange, with the goal of raising millions for a massive development project called Queen Mary Island. Eagle Hospitality, however, began bankruptcy proceedings in January and reported it has more than $500 million in debt.

“We can’t control outside forces and what took place with Urban commons was beyond our control,” Economic Development Deputy Director Sergio Ramirez told the Post. “So I don’t think this is a poor reflection of our department.”

Ramirez added that the department always supports recommendations by the city manager.

In a written statement, City Manager Tom Modica the city has had “very preliminary discussions with Port staff on this concept,” noting the proposal will get a full airing for public discussion at City Council, and that the Harbor Department will conduct additional study.

“With Pier H having been previously under port control, and given the site’s proximity to other port uses, this idea has a lot of merit and deserves a full review,” he said. 

Lee Peterson, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, said it is too early in the process for the port to comment.

“We’ll need to allow time for the council to discuss and consider the agenda item,” he said in an email. “Ultimately, this would be a matter for the Harbor Commission to consider.”

Since the transfer of the land to the city more than three decades ago, no development has taken place, with several proposals falling through.

The City Council will consider the request at its April 6 meeting.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Tom Modica, Sergio Ramirez and Lee Peterson.

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.
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