July 6, 2006

'I Dos' won't be don'ts aboard Queen Mary - Some couples fear ship won't be around for their weddings.

By Wendy Thomas Russell, Staff writer
LONG BEACH -- Some couples with nuptials planned aboard the Queen Mary are experiencing wedding-day jitters of a different sort: Wondering whether the venue will still be around when they take their vows.
Operators of the historic ship say the jitters are a result of recent media attention focused on the impending auction of Queen's Seaport Development Inc., which leases the city-owned ocean liner. And officials want to assure wedding parties that the auction is expected to have little or no effect on the attraction's day-to-day activities.
“It's just a change of operator,” says Howard Ehrenberg, who took over as trustee for the bankrupt QSDI in April. “We all know the ship is not going anywhere.”
Joseph Prevratil, the company's former CEO who still runs the nonprofit RMS Foundation, said special events account for 40 percent of QSDI's profits, so it's important that the confusion be cleared up quickly. He said any buyer would likely want a fluid transition, so that weddings, trade shows and the like would experience as few interruptions as possible.
“There would be no reason for (the ship) to close,” Prevratil said, “even temporarily.”
The Queen Mary's event staff began fielding calls from concerned individuals two weeks ago after Ehrenberg filed a status report with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles that announced his decision to put QSDI up for an “auction-style sale.”
Any buyer, he said, would be expected to offer a sum large enough to pay off all of the estate's debts estimated at some $42 million. But, in the end, the buyer would simply own the lease to the ship and the land surrounding it; the city owns the ship and has no plans to move or sell it.
Ehrenberg also provided an update on his negotiations

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with various creditors involved in legal disputes with QSDI, including the city of Long Beach, which claims to be owed at least $4 million in back rent. Despite the contentious nature of some of the disputes in the past, the trustee said he already had made great strides in moving most cases toward successful resolutions.
The one exception, he said, involved the Las Vegas-based Bandero a company that owns a 24 percent interest in QSDI and claims to own development rights to the land adjacent to the ship. He called that case “a mess.”
Ehrenberg said part of his job, as QSDI's interim CEO, is to help build the ship's revenue. That's one reason he became particularly concerned about the potential dip in event bookings caused by general confusion over the ship's future.
“It's hard to know the negative it has already caused,” Ehrenberg said.
It's not the first time that QSDI's behind-the-scenes legal problems have directly threatened the ship's business. When the company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2005, it caused a flurry of angst among some marriage-bound couples who worried they would be left without an altar.
As it turned out, the ship stayed put, the altars remained, and dozens of weddings went off without a hitch.
Wendy Thomas Russell can be reached at wendy.russell@presstelegram.com or (562) 499-1272.

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