Queen Mary Operator Hopes to Save Ship With $250 Million Development

By: 
Sean Belk

Although the Queen Mary is in need of major repairs due to corrosion from years of deferred maintenance, the ship’s new operator has revealed plans for a $250 million development expected to generate enough revenue to ensure the longevity of the iconic, 83-year-old vessel.

Urban Commons, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment and development firm that took over the ship’s master lease last year, announced plans to transform nearly 65 acres of surrounding waterfront property into an all-inclusive, entertainment destination to be called “Queen Mary Island.”

The development is expected to “pay homage to the Golden Age of the luxury liner while bringing to life a curated collection of music, entertainment, dining and adventure offerings that take full advantage of the coastal setting,” according to an announcement released by Urban Commons on March 22.

Just weeks prior to the announcement, results of a marine survey, originally commissioned by the ship’s former operator, Garrison Investment Group, found that the total cost of ship repairs for known conditions, including main structural work, are estimated to be anywhere from $235 to $289 million and will take up to five years of multi-phased projects once funding is secured.

“The most critical recommended repairs address the ongoing corrosion of the hull structure, comprising the tank tops, the double bottom, and its longitudinal and transverse structural frames,” the 396-page survey states. “Without these repairs, the ship could become unsafe to occupy in five to 10 years.”

John Keisler, the city’s director of economic and property development, said in an interview with the Beachcomber that a new 66-year lease agreement with Urban Commons has dedicated several new revenue sources and other funding to ensure historic preservation of the ship will be maintained for years to come.

The city has already set aside $23 million to pay for the ship’s most urgent repairs over the next 18 months, in addition to funding already allocated from an ongoing maintenance budget.

In addition, an agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines, which has full access to the geodesic Spruce Goose dome to expand its terminal, earmarks $2.5 million a year from passenger fees while 1 percent of gross revenues from new development on the site will be dedicated to maintenance and repairs to the ship, Keisler said.

“In our agreement with Urban Commons, not only are they putting their own money into the development of the land and the maintenance of the ship, but we also have set aside these new revenue sources,” he said. “The city is not going to have to shoulder all of the risk of fixing the ship . . . We have carved out, as part of this development agreement, dedicated resources for the next 66 years to put more money into the boat than has been put in over the last 83 years.”

Necessary structural renovations and repairs to restore the ship and make way for enhancements to hotel guest rooms and public spaces are already underway, according to Urban Commons representatives.

The Ghosts & Legends attraction, which has been closed since April 2016, for instance, will reopen this winter after structural improvements in the boiler room, according to the operator.

Urban Commons is also treating corrosion that has accumulated on the Queen Mary’s interior and exterior by using Maxon CRS, an environmentally-friendly coating that eliminates existing rust and prevents future corrosion. The last time the ship was painted was over 15 years ago, according to Urban Commons.

In addition, the ship’s Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge is expected to undergo a complete transformation and plans for the new space will be debuted in late summer. Urban Commons is also replacing existing worn-out decks with fabricated teak to ensure longevity and safety, expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Urban Commons has also introduced new events this year, including: a monthly “Local Band Hangout” program, where local artists and bands perform on the ship; a rock music concert; and the second annual Wet Carnival.

As for new development planned on property surrounding the ship, Urban Commons has submitted site plans, Keisler said, adding that an environmental impact report will ultimately need to be approved by the city’s planning commission, city council and California Coastal Commission.

According to Urban Commons, the Queen Mary Island development is being designed, with assistance from Los Angeles-based architecture firm Gensler, as a “self-contained destination with landscapes, amenities and recreational experiences.” Plans call for a 2,400 square-foot long boardwalk, a marina, cafes, restaurants, bars, a new 200-room hotel and a grand outdoor amphitheater, encompassing a total of 700,000 square feet of retail space.

The development will also feature a 150,000 square foot facility to house Urban Adventure, where visitors can take part in nearly 20 interactive and experiential adventure-like activities, with an indoor ice-climbing wall, a trampoline park and opportunities for surfing, canyoning, skydiving and zip-lining.

According to the operator, the multi-activity concept is being brought in for the first time in North America by London-based Urban Legacies.

Taylor Woods, principal at Urban Commons, told the Beachcomber in an interview that the new development will not feature any residential component and is being designed to be fully open to the public for visitors to enjoy new attractions and waterfront scenery.

“What we’re hoping for is to create a destination that is open for access to everybody in the community and the region so that there’s nothing that’s exclusive or closed off and so people can come and be entertained and participate in musical events and entertainment venues and fine dining and really enjoy the coastal setting,” he said. “Our focus is not a traditional retail component of any kind. What we’re looking for is a destination for people who are looking for entertainment and enjoyment and who want to participate in activities and events that are there.”

Woods estimates that there may eventually be a “surplus” of funds dedicated to maintenance and repairs of the ship given the expansion of Carnival Cruise Lines, increased attendance of guests on the Queen Mary and new revenue sources expected to come from future development.

“In years past, there were some periods of time where attendance of Queen Mary was much less than it is now, but we’re seeing a very large number of visitors,” he said. “We have a huge number of weddings, events, parties and concerts. All of those things going on today together with things going on in the future will continue to contribute to what we believe will be a surplus in the [maintenance] fund.”

sean@beachcomber.news

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