Long Beach may soon take next step to transfer Queen Mary to Harbor Department

Long Beach may soon take another step toward transferring control of the Queen Mary and the surrounding 40 acres of parks, cruise terminals and parking lots back to the Harbor Department, with the City Council set to vote next week on beginning negotiations on how that would work.

The vote scheduled for Tuesday night, Sept. 14, would direct the City Manager’s office to begin negotiations with the Harbor Department, which oversees the Port of Long Beach, to operate and control Pier H, which includes the Queen Mary. City staffers would ultimately have to hammer out the details of how the transfer the property and the City Council would have to approve the terms, according to a staff report.

The potential onset of negotiations is the latest significant step in efforts the city has undertaken in recent months to ensure the legendary Queen Mary remains the major tourist attraction its been since it first arrived in Long Beach in 1967.

The World War II-era ship has long been in need of repairs, with a 2015 marine survey showing the total cost to fix the Queen Mary at $235 million to 289 million. A year later, the city entered into a 66-year lease agreement with Urban Commons Queensway to take over day-to-day operations.

But multiple inspections since then have called into question how much progress Urban Commons Queensway made on that repair work. Most recently, an April inspection found that there were more than $23 million worth of “immediate repair needs.”

Then, in June, Urban Commons Queensway surrendered its lease as part of an ongoing bankruptcy case the operator filed earlier this year, along with more than two dozen other related companies.

That gave control of the Queen Mary back to Long Beach for the first time in more than 40 years.

But a month later, the City Council learned that preserving the ship in place would cost tens of millions of dollars just to get it into shape and then $5 million annually — costing up to $175 million total over 25 years.

The city’s staff report lists maintenance and long-term preservation of the Queen Mary, management of the pier’s other tenants and budgeting and staff organization all as issues to be negotiated if council members vote yes.

The city then began looking into giving control back to the Harbor Department and the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, because of their experience overseeing port-related infrastructure. The Harbor Department operated the Queen Mary and Pier H until 1993.

The harbor commission’s members get appointed by the mayor and even though the Port of Long Beach is technically part of the city, it largely operates as an independent entity.

The details that must get worked out before the Harbor Department can take over Pier H, according to a staff report, include:

An overall transition plan, which would include the organizational structure, the proposed budget and other logistical concerns.
A transition plan for Pier H tenants, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Catalina Express.
Maintenance and improvement plans.
How to reopen the Queen Mary hotel and event spaces.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us to have control over and see this Pier become a jewel in Long Beach,” Councilwoman Cindy Allen said by phone Friday morning.

City Councilwoman Cindy Allen, whose district encompasses Pier H, outwardly supported the city regaining control of the Queen Mary. And now, Allen said, she hopes the Harbor Department can help make Pier H and the Queen Mary an even better money maker for Long Beach.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us to have control over and see this Pier become a jewel in Long Beach,” Allen said by phone Friday morning, Sept. 10. “We’ll make sure that she’s well taken care of.”

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