Opinion: An aerial gondola to the Queen Mary? What are you, high?

Back in March of 2019, when we were still a year away from when things would begin to crumble in Long Beach and the rest of the country, and Pat West was still the city manager, the city council asked him and his staff to work with Urban Commons and a consortium of aerial tram builders and developers called “The Wave Team,” along with key waterfront business people (OK, I’ll say it: “stakeholders”) to explore the idea of building an aerial tram connecting Downtown with the Queen Mary Island.

Now, the city is seriously considering the feasibility of a feasibility study, which would cost about $500,000 to determine whether to build the aerial gondola system. The city hopes to spend little if any money on the study and the project and is merely facilitating hooking up investors with the developers. Still, there’s no such thing as a free gondola—or even a free feasibility study—and it’s not difficult to imagine the city ending up with a stack of bills from all of this.

Teams that peddle aerial gondola systems tend to be good at pointing out the benefits of them and The Wave Team almost has me on board. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s clean, it’s efficient, it eases traffic and parking and best of all, at the end of your ride, you’re at Queen Mary Island.

Queen Mary Island, in case you’ve forgotten and there’s very good reasons for forgetting, is little more than a sheaf of fantasy illustrations from the ship’s former operator, Urban Commons, that depicts a ship and its adjacent property as being a wonderland of fine dining, dancing, game-playing, world-class musical performers, rock-climbing and other activities.

It was estimated to cost about $250 million to build it, plus, a like amount of money would be necessary to make the Queen itself ship-shape and, of course, those numbers have likely changed by now, and they haven’t gone down.

And the ship’s operator is now Eagle Hospitality Trust, which was created by Urban Commons last year so it could sell stock on the Singapore Stock Exchange with the goal of raising millions for Queen Mary Island.

In September, Eagle Hospitality committed financial patricide and kicked Urban Commons off the ship and took over as the new operators.

The following month, authorities in Singapore arrested six current and former directors of Eagle Hospitality Trust on suspicion of failing to make required disclosures to investors.

If you had a bottomless pit full of money you wouldn’t give a buck and a quarter to these people, never mind a half-billion. We’re closer to Okinawa now than we are to a Queen Mary Island.

So, there’s that matter of building an $80-to-$100-million gondola ride to deliver people to what could remain a rusted and listing souvenir of yester-century piloted by feral raccoons for several more years, though The Wave Team and Long Beach leaders such as the ever-optimistic Director of Economic Development John Keisler, who’s leading the city’s role in launching a feasibility study, see the Carnival Cruise terminal as another big reason to build the gondola system.

Carnival, says Keisler, has put close to $20 million into improving its terminal and will soon be starting to ramp up operations for cruises as soon as later next year, and with a bit more than a million boardings going through the terminal each year, passengers would be more willing to book apartments in the Downtown area if they could just step into a gondola that would take them right to the cruise terminal, he said. “Carnival sees tremendous opportunity in the future in Long Beach, and they’re bringing in more amenities and bigger ships. That’s a good indicator that they see great potential here.”

Keisler and Carnival may be slightly overestimating people’s eagerness to hop aboard a cruise ship anytime soon, just as I may,  just as likely, be underestimating people’s anxiousness to once again gamble in international waters, rocket down water slides at sea and hit golf balls off the fantail.

I don’t know, maybe I’m too cynical, or maybe I’m just recalling the last time a similar thing was proposed for Long Beach. In 1999, an $80-million people mover rail system was proposed to link Pine Avenue, the Convention Center, the Pike at Rainbow Harbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary. Perhaps because developers of alternate forms of inter-attraction transportation solutions invariably think Long Beach has surf, that project was also called The Wave.

The idea flopped around until it was finally laid to rest in 2003, when then-Community Development Director Melanie Fallon, citing the city’s impending $90-million three-year projected budget shortfall (and, hey! We’re looking at a similar situation now), said, simply, “It’s just not the right time for us.”

You can say it again.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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