Does it make sense to spend up to $289 million to repair the Queen Mary?
A report says the Queen Mary is so corroded that it’s at risk of flooding and collapse, and fixing up the 1930s ocean liner could cost $289 million.
Buried in a nearly 400-page study on the dire repairs needed for the venerable Queen Mary is a diagram of the 81-year-old ocean liner that looks like something out of an autopsy report.
From the bow to the stern, from the keel to the crow’s nest, arrows point out more than 20 repair projects needed to prevent a hull collapse and flooding that threaten the stability of the ship.
The most immediate fixes would cost $5.7 million, with a total budget of $289 million for all repairs over the next five years, according to the engineering report handed to Long Beach city officials this month.
The question now facing the coastal town is whether the overhaul would be a good investment for a floating tourist attraction that has struggled over the years to remain profitable.
City officials have committed to preserving the ship, saying they can pay for the repairs using revenue generated by the ship and the surrounding developments. Those revenues would have otherwise been diverted to the city’s general fund.
“The Queen Mary is an iconic asset that the city has finally, for the first time, made a commitment to,” said Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, whose district includes the harbor area. “I believe we need all of our assets together to create a strong tourist attraction.”
But tourism experts say the total repair costs may not match how much the ship brings in tourism dollars.
“It makes no sense,” said Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality. “You could build a resort hotel at a million dollars a room instead.”
Carl Winston, a hospitality and tourism expert from San Diego State, said the money needed for the repairs could be used on more profitable ventures, such as the city convention center.
“If someone towed the Queen Mary away, I don’t think a lot fewer people would be going to Long Beach,” he said.
The study that calls for the urgent repairs was requested by the company that previously operated the lease for the Queen Mary, New York-based Garrison Investment Group.
A final version of the report by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a national engineering firm, was turned over to the city of Long Beach on March 2. The current lease operator, Urban Commons, said it is moving ahead with the necessary repairs.
“Our team is already in full swing, making critical structural renovations and repairs to ensure the Queen Mary is well equipped for the next 80 years,” said Taylor Woods, a principal at Urban Commons.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said he is “excited by the promise of this exciting new project for our city and the Queen Mary.”
The ship sailed into the Long Beach harbor in 1967 and has since become an iconic landmark for the city, producing revenue from visitor fees and the 314 hotel rooms in the ship. Festivals, concerts and haunted attractions in the fall have been added to generate extra money.
You could build a resort hotel at a million dollars a room instead.
— Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality
Room-rental revenue has climbed from $6.3 million in 2009 to $11.6 million in 2014, according to city records. Meanwhile, special events revenue jumped from $678,000 to $3.4 million over the same period.
Over the past 50 years, the city has brought in several firms — including Walt Disney Co. — to manage the ship and develop about 43 acres of adjacent oceanfront property, with mixed results.
One previous leaseholder went bankrupt, and an operator abruptly ended its contract and walked away. During the recession, occupancy rates for the ship’s rooms dropped to 50% — just barely high enough to cover expenses.
Several studies have been drafted in recent years on ways to generate more revenue from the ship and the adjacent property, including a proposal last year to develop a 200-room land-side boutique hotel, restaurants, a marina, an amphitheater and even a giant Ferris wheel.
But the study by the engineering firm warned that some parts of the ship are too corroded or unstable to be open to visitors, including the indoor swimming pool and parts of an exhibition hall.
Ideally, such repairs should be done while the ship is in dry dock, the study said. But extensive repairs would be needed just to move the ship to a dry dock facility, the report said.
“The Queen Mary is not sufficiently seaworthy to be towed to other facilities,” the report said.
Making the repairs while the ship remains in the harbor, operating as a tourist attraction, is feasible but would take three to five years and require “very careful and detailed planning,” the report said.
The report does not say that the ship is in immediate danger of sinking, but it suggests that structural repairs are needed to prevent devastating problems such as flooding.
“The very severe structural steel corrosion has resulted in 1½-inch thin tank top being rusted away to nothing in some places,” the report said. “We predict at this rate of corrosion some internal collapse of the Queen Mary’s structure will occur within 10 years unless major action is taken soon.”
Long Beach officials say the ship is safe for the public and that those areas noted in the marine survey report have been closed. Already, $23 million is being spent to fix the most serious problems, city officials say.
“Major action is being taken regarding the repairs, and the public is not being put at risk,” city spokeswoman Kerry Gerot said.
Council member Pearce said she was not surprised by the extent of the repairs needed, noting that no structural repairs have been done to the ship for 50 years.
“It’s been sitting there,” she said. “To think it would be preserved without us doing anything would be surprising.”
She recalled that for a decade Long Beach was once the home of another icon: the Spruce Goose, the giant airship designed by famed aviator Howard Hughes. The aircraft, housed in a 400-foot wide dome, moved out of Long Beach in 1992 for an Oregon air museum.
Pearce said the city doesn’t want to lose another landmark.
“I think it’s the right bold vision that the city wants to take,” she said.
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