Long Beach Council to Raise Funds for Queen Mary Repairs

Reed Travel Features

LONG BEACH -- The venerable Queen Mary, once the pride of Cunard-White Star Line's transatlantic fleet and a fixture in Long Beach harbor for 29 years, is in the news again.

The ship, built in Scotland and launched in 1930, has been a problematic project ever since it berthed here as a hotel and tourist attraction in 1967.

Now, facing $40 million in essential repairs to the ship's structure, electricity, air conditioning and plumbing, Joseph Prevratil, president of the RMS Foundation, which operates the ship for the city, has presented the city council with a novel approach to raising the money.

He has asked to be allowed to tow the ship (it no longer has its own power) to Tokyo, where a group of wealthy Japanese businessmen will make the repairs.

In return, they want to be allowed to anchor the ship in Tokyo Bay as a casino-hotel for up to five years, depending on how soon -- or if -- they recoup their investment and make a reasonable profit.

The city council, although admitting the necessity of an upgrade, is reluctant to let the ship float away, even though no public tax money is available for the property and private sources are not rushing forward.

The council has postponed until early spring a decision on Prevratil's proposal.

The reason for their reluctance? Despite its failure to enrich any of its major operators and even as it continues to decay, the Queen Mary has become a striking city landmark.

Council member Jerry Shultz said that the Queen Mary was to Long Beach "what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris."

The council will redouble its efforts to find alternative means of funding repair work while not adding to the burden of taxpayers already reeling from the loss of thousands of military and aerospace jobs.

Operators and license-holders have come and gone during the Queen Mary's years in the harbor.

Involved at one time or another have been the likes of Diners Club, Pacific Southwest Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Specialty Restaurants Corp., the Wrather Corp. and Walt Disney Co.

None has been able to generate a profit consistently, and, in the fall of 1992, the hotel portion, followed soon after by the walk-through tour portion of the ship, shut down.

Long Beach assumed responsibility for the Queen Mary and gave operating rights to RMS Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, public benefit corporation.

Pending a decision on the Tokyo proposal, the Queen Mary Hotel and walking tour are doing business as usual.

For further information, call the Queen Mary at (800) 437-2934.

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