The future of the legendary Queen Mary ship is in jeopardy as Eagle Hospitality Trust, the company that operates it as a tourist attraction, has filed for bankruptcy protection.
The ship, which has been docked in Long Beach, California for more than 50 years, is a unique artifact and the only survivor of the great ocean liners that sailed through America and Britain.
With her clean lines and Art Deco decor, Cunard/White Star Line’s 1,019.4-foot-long, 81,237-gross ton Queen Mary is built for luxury and speed. In 1936, the year she was launched, she won the Blue Ribbon, an award given annually to the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic.
Over the next three decades, the ship played an important role in World War II and also carried passengers in three comfort classes between New York and London for many years.
Fastest ship at sea
From 1938 to 1952, the Queen Mary held the record for the Atlantic crossing with an average speed of 31.69 knots (36.47 mph). In 1952 he was finally defeated by the then new American SS.
A victim of the jet age, the ship’s naval career ended in 1967 with her 1000th crossing of the North Atlantic. Over the past three decades, she has carried a total of 2,112,000 passengers over 3,792,227 miles.
The city of Long Beach had the bold idea of purchasing the Queen Mary and permanently mooring her as a tourist attraction. Because of its life on the Atlantic, the ship had no connection to the city and had never been to the Los Angeles area.
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Yet Long Beach officials had a vision that proved prophetic. In 1967, almost everyone knew the history of this elegant passenger ship, and over the years the experience of touring the ship, enjoying a meal or sleeping in a cabin has become one of Southern California’s top attractions.
However, this is not the first time Queen Mary has faced the threat of unsustainable finances. The difficulty of maintaining and caring for the ship with limited revenue from sightseeing, special events and port charges for cruise passengers is a long-term problem. The city leased the ship to several operators, most of whom were having financial problems.
Preservation of liners is costly
They are just the latest in a long line of operators who either didn’t understand the basics of operating such a unique structure, or fell victim to external circumstances, in the latter case COWID-19, or both, liner historian and journalist Peter Knego told Cruise Radio.
The problems with maintaining liners are never the cost of purchase, but only the cost of rebuilding and proper maintenance for their afterlife, Knego said. Because of its size and complex architecture, it is an ongoing project that will always need repair, just as painting the Golden Gate Bridge is never finished.
According to the Long Beach Post, a 2015 study commissioned by the city showed that $289 million was needed for urgent repairs to the ship, but only $23 million could be raised, a fraction of what was needed. In 2016, the city granted Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Urban Commons a 66-year lease to operate the ship.
Three years later, Urban Commons founded Eagle Hospitality, a real estate investment company that will be listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange to raise funds for a $250 million project to transform 65 acres of waterfront land around the dry dock into an entertainment hub with restaurants, bars, sports facilities, a 200-room hotel and other attractions.
The project stalled and Eagle Hospitality Trust struggled financially until a recent bankruptcy filing, defaulting on a $341 million bank loan in 2019.
Can we save this old lady?
The Queen Mary’s current problems are compounded by the fact that she has been closed to visitors since May 2020 due to the global pandemic. And Carnival Cruise Line’s modern ships, which share the port, have been absent since last March, eliminating another source of revenue.
So what does the future hold for the great lady of the seas?
It seems unthinkable that such an icon of the 20th century should be allowed to remain…. I don’t know if I can make the 20th century go away. Stripped of its luxurious decorations during World War II, this ship was painted grey and used to transport troops and prisoners of war. She holds the record for the number of people aboard one ship, 16,683, and her unmatched speed enabled her to outrun Hitler’s submarines.
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Winston Churchill, who traveled several times by boat, is said to have made his plans for D-Day while lying in the bathtub of his suite. He also claimed that their contribution would have shortened the war by a year.
There are also many stories of prisoners of war, crew members and other passengers who died on the ship. The month-long annual Halloween event, dubbed Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, has become one of the ship’s biggest attractions.
John Keisler, economic development director for the city of Long Beach, told the Long Beach Post that he was confident another operator would take over management of the Queen Mary if Eagle Hospitality Trust were to close due to bankruptcy. According to him, the development potential of the environment is the key to the future of the ship.
She put a long beach on the map
The reason they are willing to accept it is the opportunity to develop real estate on the Southern California coast, he told the Post. And we think we will succeed, with this group or with another group, depending on the results of the coming weeks.
Knego, who runs midshipcentury.com, believes the Queen Mary is irreplaceable.
He put Long Beach, and then Harbor City Escape, on the map when they bought it, and although it has fallen on hard times, to this day it is their mascot and the highlight of their waterfront and skyline, Knego said.
It can certainly be saved if the right investments are made and the right work is done, but it takes a lot of money and a well thought out plan. Technically, it may never be able to recoup that money as a short-term investment, but being in Long Beach contributes to the city’s overall economy and gives people a reason to visit. Having them there is like having the Statue of Liberty in New York. It is a treasure that must be preserved at all costs.
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