‘We must preserve it’: Long Beach mayor stands by the Queen Mary in spite of new troubles

In January of 2020, months before the pandemic shut down the world, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in his annual State of the City address focused on the future of the Queen Mary.

For decades the historic ocean liner had served as a hotel and tourist attraction, but recent inspection reports had revealed years of neglect and deterioration. The mayor in his speech vowed to restore the ship as an important piece of history.

“The Queen Mary is bringing people from across the world to Long Beach,” Garcia said. “And we must preserve it, honor it, and live up to the promise that we made 50 years ago.”

Now, more than a year later, a new inspection report released in court documents last week said the ship is in worse condition than previously thought and will need an additional $23 million in urgent safety repairs to keep it viable in the next two years.

In statements on Thursday, Garcia reiterated his commitment to the Queen Mary, saying he believes the ship should “absolutely be preserved.”

“It’s an important part of not just Long Beach history, but the history of the country and its relationship with the U.K.,” he said. “So from a preservation perspective, I think it’s really, really important.”

Garcia’s comments on the Queen Mary came after the Post asked him questions during a city news conference to provide updates on the COVID-19 response.

The ship’s current operator 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 this week, but the city of Long Beach filed a request for an extension until Aug. 16 to give the debtor more time to decide what to do with the lease.

The latest inspection report by a city-hired naval architecture and marine engineering firm called Elliott Bay Design Group, which inspected the ship on April 28, found that the ship is in need of critical safety repairs and could be in danger of flooding.

The report noted that few of the critical repairs listed in a 2015 marine survey had been addressed. That survey projected costs of up to $289 million for urgent repairs over the next several years.

The city is now battling the ship’s former operator, Urban Commons, in bankruptcy court over a string of unfulfilled lease obligations, including failing to perform more than $40 million in repair work on the ship.

Garcia on Thursday said the city hopes to have a resolution in bankruptcy court.

Long Beach owns the Queen Mary but for decades has leased the ship to a string of operators who have failed to make the ship profitable and plummeted into bankruptcy.

The mayor acknowledged the city’s history of problems for its waterfront icon.

“The city has been trying to get the Queen Mary right for 40-plus years, certainly since it’s been from one leaseholder to the next, and for all of us that want that preservation to happen, it’s hard to see,” he said. “There’s been attempt, after attempt, after attempt, including currently, and it has not succeeded to the point where there has been the right partner and the right preservation plan in place.”

The city is now considering shifting control of the Queen Mary and the surrounding land to the Harbor Commission, which oversees the Port of Long Beach. Garcia said he hopes to have more insight when the city releases the results of a feasibility study, which is expected in the next two months.

“Regardless of what the resolution is, my hope is at the end of this, there is a focus on preservation of the ship and that becomes central to what happens moving forward,” he said.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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