The lifeboats on the Queen Mary are in danger of structural failure. Handrails on the ship are broken in some places, and in others, missing entirely. Missing numbers on the ship’s elevator were replaced with drawn-on numerals, and splitting carpet patched with duct tape. The adjacent Queen’s Marketplace, which was supposed to have been demolished, is being used to store rubbish. The ship’s neighbor in its moat, the Scorpion Russian submarine, is heavily corroded and could sink, posing a threat to the structural integrity of the Queen Mary.
These are just a few of many concerns outlined in the detailed reports of Edward Pribonic, the independent inspector hired by the City of Long Beach to keep track of repairs and maintenance on the Queen Mary, which is currently under the care of lessee Urban Commons. The monthly reports are dated from January through June of this year.
On October 1, Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler sent Urban Commons CEO Taylor Woods a letter informing him that the company had failed to meet its obligations as outlined in its 66-year lease agreement to operate the Queen Mary. Keisler cited a number of issues detailed in Pribonic’s inspection reports, including failing paint, the need to remove deteriorating lifeboats, and necessary repairs to the ship’s side shell, expansion joints and bilge.
Some of the necessary repairs are critical for visitor and employee safety, per the inspection reports. For example, as Keisler wrote, the continued corrosion of the side shell “represents a serious threat to the ship’s structural integrity and the safety of guests and employees.”
Asked for further detail about the state of the ship’s side shell, Johnny Vallejo, business operations bureau manager for the city’s economic development department, explained, “The communications we’ve received from the inspecting engineer is not that there would be any sort of a catastrophic failure, but that you would start to see sagging in certain areas related to the side shell.” He added, “But the side shell and the super structure that holds up the lifeboats are integral to the structure of the ship, so it’s something that we want to get addressed as quickly as possible.”
Keisler’s letter notified Woods that Urban Commons’ annual audited financials for 2018 and evidence of the account deposits and balance for the ship’s Base Maintenance and Replacement Plan Fund are due to the city no later than October 30, 2019. The latter identifies funds available for maintenance projects. “Please respond to this letter within 30 days and provide a plan to address the deficiencies described above,” Keisler wrote in the letter. “If you fail to respond within 30 days, Urban Commons may be found in default per Section 14.1.b of the Lease, with the right to cure pursuant to Section 14.2.”
A spokesperson for Urban Commons told the Business Journal on October 10 that the documents would be sent to the city by the deadline. Asked when Urban Commons’ 2018 financial records were originally due to the city, Vallejo said that should have been received in March. “They are late, which is why it was called out,” he said.
Vallejo noted that the financial statements show the amount of profit Urban Commons is making in running the Queen Mary. He noted that in order to make enough profit to maintain the ship, the lease agreement assumes that the planned shoreside development must go forward. “The way the current lease is written, it did contemplate a significant resource for maintaining the ship is the shoreside development,” he said.
In a separate letter also sent on October 1, Keisler approved a request made by Urban Commons on September 10 to demolish Queen’s Marketplace – a defunct retail village next to the ship – and construct additional parking. He directed Urban Commons to provide evidence of the availability of funds necessary to complete this project.
Notably, the letter directed Urban Commons to submit written documentation “that because it does not intend to finalize the entitlements for the Queen Mary Island project within the next 24 months, the demolition of the Village and Marketplace buildings and the construction of the parking lot is required.” Queen Mary Island is Urban Commons’ planned development of the land adjacent to the ship, which would tentatively include an outdoor amphitheater, retail and other amenities.
When the plan for Queen Mary Island was unveiled in March 2017, Woods told the Business Journal that the project would be completed in six to eight years from that time, including one to two years to procure necessary permits and permissions. Given that timeline, if it does indeed take Urban Commons as much as 24 months to file entitlements, the project would be at least two years behind schedule.
Linda Tatum, director of Long Beach Development Services, confirmed via email that in 2017 Urban Commons submitted a design concept to her department for Queen Mary Island. “Development Services provided a couple of rounds of comments on [the] proposal, as to its consistency with the Queen Mary Land Development Guidelines,” she said. But further work has been put on hold while Urban Commons addresses matters related to its finances. “Subsequent to the submittal of the concept design, Urban Commons advised staff that the project was on hold to allow time for the firm to focus on issues related to its corporate financing structure. Staff has been advised that the QMI project will be reinitiated at a future time, but no date has been provided for the resubmittal,” Tatum explained.
Asked if the city has concerns about Urban Commons’ financial ability to maintain the ship and meet its leaseholder obligations, Vallejo pointed to the firm’s move to go public on the Singapore Stock Exchange. “We do believe that they have access to additional revenue and that the development plan is still on course,” he said.
As previously reported by the Business Journal, a 2015 marine survey of the ship estimated it would cost $235 million to $289 million to address needed short-term, mid-term and long-term repairs to the Queen Mary. But in 2016, Urban Commons requested just $23 million in city funds to address 27 preservation and restoration projects. About $14.08 million of that money, which consisted of existing city reserves and bond revenues, has been spent. Per a city memo, as of September, just eight projects have been completed and 19 are in progress. Eight other projects are pending and unfunded.
In a statement sent to local media on October 4, Urban Commons responded to reports about needed repairs and maintenance, and its lease obligations. “Urban Commons is currently in compliance with the terms of our lease agreement with the City of Long Beach,” the e-mail from Urban Commons’ public relations representative stated. “Repairs to The Queen Mary have been underway for some time, with each item outlined in our agreement appropriately prioritized and either already addressed, or postponed with supporting documentation in favor of issues that required immediate attention to ensure the ship remains safe for visitors and crew at all times.”