Getting the Queen Mary shipshape to take 30 years

Developer Urban Commons says it now has additional revenue streams to help fund the preservation.



Rendering of a forthcoming “Queen Mary Island” attraction on the land adjacent to the Queen Mary

The venerable Queen Mary– having been docked in Long Beach as a hotel, dining and special-event venue for 52 of her 85 years– needs a makeover to ensure she stays intact and afloat.

Urban Commons, a Los Angeles-based real-estate investment and development firm, and leaseholder of the Queen Mary’s until 2080, announced last week its intention to develop a preservation plan for the ship with the help of John Thomas, the ship’s historic-resources advisor, and other industry experts.

According to Mayor Robert Garcia in his Jan. 14 State of the City speech, those preservation blueprints will be “accessible and transparent to the public.”

The 30-year plan– to be unveiled at an unspecified later date– will outline the major preservation and renovation work required, along with associated costs, the firm announced Jan. 16. It will also facilitate annual inspections and surveys every five years over the long-term plan.

“These reviews ensure that not only is the plan being implemented, but [allow] updating and re-prioritizing the plan if needed,” Urban Commons said. “Then, every ten years, an additional decade will be added to the plan, using experience as well as ongoing work and inspections from the years previous, [to plan next steps].”

The blueprint will also consider past surveys and reports in crafting the plan, Thomas said in the announcement.

“We are working with a marine surveyor and structural engineer to create a plan that covers aesthetic, structural and engineering issues– not only covering the state of these areas today, but anticipating decades of continuous work with associated capital investment,” he said.

Specifically, the plan will incorporate environmental and engineering reports, a 2015 marine survey and local marine studies, Thomas said. Urban Commons will retain A.M. Marine Surveys, LLC and structural engineers John A. Martin Associates, Inc. to perform a peer review of those studies in developing the 30-year plan.

“The Historic Preservation Blueprint will determine and prioritize preservation projects with their related costs, address any further studies and establish a comprehensive maintenance and monitoring plan for the historic Queen Mary,” Thomas stated.

Howard Wu, principal at Urban Commons, said in the announcement that the Queen Mary is an international treasure, having transported royalty, refugees, soldiers and celebrities before finally resting in Long Beach in 1967.

“Akin to the ship herself, while we need a robust and realistic blueprint, this plan must be flexible with the ability to evolve and pivot as needed,” Wu said. “There have been many reports and surveys addressing the state of the Queen Mary, and while they may identify preservation projects of today, what about tomorrow, in five or ten years or when the historic ship will provide the iconic backdrop to the 2028 Olympics on the Long Beach waterfront? Maintenance and preservation on our iconic landmark is an ongoing investment, and this blueprint will outline exactly that.”

Significantly, Wu said that his firm has created new income streams from the area around the Queen Mary, which it will also specify at a future date.

“By utilizing the 40 surrounding acres, additional revenue will continue to be generated and we’re excited to share our updated plans for the area around the Queen Mary later this year,” Wu said. “[That income will] feed into a reserve fund to ensure the longevity of the ship.”


Schematic of the Queen Mary leasehold area from the Sept. 2016 Queen Mary Land Development Task Force report, showing developable water and land areas surrounding the ship

Courtesy City of LB

Urban Commons said in 2016 that it planned to invest $15 million into the ship and about $250 million in land development to make the area more marketable to younger people, according to media reports.

At the time, the company envisioned a marina with boardwalk and restaurant on water north of the ship and an amphitheater on the ship’s adjacent land for music and other performances. Its lease includes 20 acres on water and 45 on land.

A music venue is also something that a Queen Mary Land Development Task Force had envisioned in 2016 as a guiding principle for the surrounding area’s development, drawn from community stakeholders and 10 public meetings with residents.

A Sept. 22, 2016 memo from the Long Beach mayor’s office, summarizes the guidelines as stating that the Queen Mary should remain the focal point of area development and be restored to its original grandeur with authentic, quality architecture appropriate for a maritime setting, with easy public access and improved transportation to the rest of the city. The surrounding area should also be a multi-purpose, multi-use district and incorporate sustainable and iconic design features as a world-class outdoor entertainment venue.

The Queen Mary’s website currently mentions a “Queen Mary Island” set to open sometime in the future, featuring a 2,400-foot-long waterfront boardwalk, retail shops, cafés and bars, a 200-room boutique hotel and state-of-the-art outdoor amphitheater. It also describes an adventure area featuring up to 20 sports and adventure activities in a 150,000-square-foot venue.

Urban Commons told the Signal Tribune Tuesday that, in addition to revenue from events on the Queen Mary and its surroundings, it also has funding agreements with the City and Carnival Cruise Lines, which has a terminal in the waters surrounding the ship.

Urban Commons’s announcement follows a request from the City of Long Beach for compliance information after a monthly inspection raised some issues, according to a Nov. 4, 2019 memo from John Keisler, Long Beach’s economic-development director, as reported in the Signal Tribune.

Specifically, the City had inquired on Oct. 1, 2019 about the condition of paint on the hull, funnels and top-of-house areas; replacement of expansion joints; bilge repair and rust remediation; side-shell repairs; and lifeboat removals, among other items.

According to Keisler’s memo, Urban Commons responded that it would start maintenance work in November 2019 at a cost of $4.8 million.

Keisler also noted in the memo that revenue from the Queen Mary increased from $36 million in 2015 to $60 million in 2019 from new attractions and special events on the ship.

In last week’s announcement, Wu said that over his firm’s five years of Queen Mary management, it has accumulated knowledge of how to handle the ship.

“We have learned not only the amount of love and care the ship requires daily,” Wu said, “but also completed crucial groundwork, ensuring staff and guest safety.”