LONG BEACH - When David Arden first visited the Queen Mary in spring 2004, he was smitten. The 54-year-old Briton with a colorful past in music management had seen attractions before. But this one, he says, was different.
"I went down and had a look, and it was like being hit by a bloody thunderbolt," Arden says. "It was just the image of it, the potential."
What he saw was a chance to turn the Queen Mary into what he describes as "a cultural and entertainment center for Long Beach."
The bankruptcy case of Queen's Seaport Development Inc., which runs the city-owned ship, may have opened that door.
Late last month, the company chose a bid by Arden and partner Michael Adler, a Woodland Hills-based real-estate investor, to pay off the company's debts, take over the ship's long-term lease and develop its surrounding 55 acres.
The deal still requires bankruptcy court approval. But if negotiations pan out, Pacific Queen Holdings - as Arden and Adler call their venture - would have a dramatic stake in the future of the Long Beach icon.
For Arden, that future involves a vision of turning the city's most unique piece of real estate into a hub for theater, music and other forms of entertainment, as well as preserving its history.
"Whatever development goes on around the ship, it will be in keeping with the ship, it will be in harmony with the ship," he says. "That's why I think our group is different than anyone else."
Arden's entertainment roots are deep. His sister is Sharon Osbourne, wife of rocker-turned-TV-personality Ozzy Osbourne. His father, Don Arden, founded the Jet record label and managed the careers of ELO, Osbourne's Black Sabbath and other groups.
The elder Arden, infamous in the music industry for his aggressive tactics, was once dubbed the "Al Capone of Pop."
"(He) was literally adored or hated and feared," David Arden says. "And it was 50-50."
The younger Arden grew up around the musicians his father managed. Gene Vincent, who sang "Be-Bop-A-Lula," taught him to swim.
David Arden went on to work for Jet and helped manage the 1980s pop group Air Supply. In the mid-1980s, he became part of the Jet lore when he served six months in a British jail for his role in an alleged assault on a Jet records accountant, a crime he denies committing. His father was acquitted on similar charges.
Sony Music later bought Jet records, and Arden has since taken on a variety of projects, including help with his sister's recent talk show. His latest gig has been as a musical consultant for the "Dog the Bounty Hunter" show on A&E.
He splits his time between Los Angeles and London. But with the Queen Mary project he envisions, he plans to stay in the United States for good.
"America is the country that really invented promotion," he says, "but nobody's really shouted the case for the Queen Mary."
Arden's shot at the Queen Mary comes courtesy of the QSDI bankruptcy case, which began in March. QSDI holds a 66-year lease with the city to operate the ship and develop its surrounding area.
The latter prospect has proved elusive for several operators since the ship landed in Long Beach in 1967. The Walt Disney Co. even walked away from a proposal to develop the DisneySea theme park in the early 1990s.
QSDI has operated the ship since 1995.
A development dispute of sorts is also responsible for the company seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The city says QSDI took nearly $5 million in inappropriate rent credits since 2001 for work that was supposed to spark development around the ship. QSDI officials say the credits were allowed under the lease.
Last month, Pacific Queen Holdings beat out four other bidders for the right to get the company back on track. But before a bankruptcy judge can consider the group's $35 million proposal, the group is seeking a more specific agreement with the city, a Northern California lender that has invested nearly $25 million into QSDI, and Joseph Prevratil, QSDI's president and CEO, among others.
In addition, a QSDI minority shareholder that submitted a bid of its own intends to have a say. The company, Bandero LLC, says it bought the development rights to the property in 2003 from QSDI, although the issue has yet to be settled in court.
Regardless, city and ship officials say the Pacific Queen Holdings proposal is the only one on the table.
Jason Gewirtz, (562) 499-1373