The Herald News, Sunday, June 30, 2013 – Page A1
Fall River – The white heron lifted her head to glare at the 25-foot Parker outboard as it crept toward shore.
Assistant Harbormaster Paul Borges inched the craft forward as Harbormaster Bruce Bannister looked over the side, searching the still water for floating logs or sunken pilings, anything that could damage the city of Fall River’s boat.
The heron looked and gave one angry grunt before sidestepping toward shore.
“She better get used to it,” Bannister said, laughing. “She could have some company.”
That, anyway, is Fall River’s greatest hope.
The city’s waterfront, 15 miles long, is a treasure hidden in plain sight, city officials say. It is practically uninhabited, with miles of emerald green fields running down to the water from Freetown to the Tiverton line.
Granite piers run at right angles to the shore and behind them are mooring fields that once held oceangoing freighters. Those piers were used to move the goods that built Fall River.
They are empty now, covered in bittersweet and poison ivy, offering platforms for fishermen who can cast out into the channel, 30 feet deep.
Borges turned the boat and swung back out into the river. Two fishing boats were chugging upstream, dragging nets behind them to capture quahogs for transplanting. Other than those boats, no one else was out on the water, early on a hot summer day.
Mike Lund untied dock lines and helped guide a cabin cruiser out of its slip at the Borden Light Marina, which Lund owns and operates. He walked up to the Tipsy Seagull, the bar and grill attached to the marina, as the restaurant crew prepared for the day.
There are marinas and boatyards from the south end of the Mount Hope Bay to the north. Tiverton’s waterfront has one after the other. The Somerset waterfront is filled. Tom Ransley runs Shaw’s Boat Yard, 86 Main St., Dighton, the northernmost marina. The upper Taunton River is as good as it gets for boaters, especially power boaters, he said. Fall River, with its two marinas, could support more, he said.
“The city is changing,” Lund said. “When we started, Quaker Fabrics was full and working. The factories all around us were working. Other than us, the largest parcels of land were all owned and operated by mills and textile companies.”
John Lund, Mike Lund’s father, cleared out dumped trash, rotting boats and a squatter’s village when he started Borden Light Marina 25 years ago. He had to work to convince boaters to leave their craft with him.
“This was a working waterfront,” Mike Lund said. “The companies were working here and making money. Now, the businesses that were here are gone. There is vacant land all along the waterfront that is available for development.
“That is new, for Fall River. It is a whole new ballgame.”
TURNING INTO A WAVE
One of the people making the biggest bets on the whole new ballgame is Tony Cordeiro, the co-owner and developer of the Common-wealth Landing site that now holds Jerry Remy’s and Red Cedar restaurants, college classes, stores, offices and clinics.
He and his partners are putting together plans to develop another building, the former classic car garage, at the end of Remington Street that faces the Braga Bridge and Mount Hope Bay.
“Everything is in place,” Cordeiro said. “We have a boardwalk, a waterview and we will have docking.”
Plans are in place to make the Fall River waterfront spectacular, Cordeiro said.
There already is a restaurant cluster around Battleship Cove and a boardwalk that will extend, soon, from Heritage Park, past the Regatta, to Bicentennial Park and Commonwealth Landing.
The city is planning to build a pier facing the Battleship Massachusetts and Bannister, the harbormaster, is accepting applications for more than 40 moorings inside the cove.
Once Route 79 is rebuilt where it runs parallel to that shore, it will be easy to get to the waterfront, Cordeiro said.
“People love going down by the water, it adds to the quality of life. That is what restaurants do, too.”
Jerry Remy’s was a game changer, Cordeiro said. When that restaurant opened to immediate success, money people in Boston and New York began calling Fall River.
“The investors are starting to look,” he said. “They have come into the city. We’ve been approached.
“If you have a good mix of uses, if you have land, if you have the city behind you, you can develop sustainability. You can set the foundation for future growth.
“But you have to believe. You have to do more than just think about it. You have to go out and get it.”
Just south of Commonwealth Landing is the Regatta site, the restaurant on a pier that closed five years ago. Peter Cabral and Thomas Richardson are working to rebuild the restaurant and get it open.
“This is a beautiful site, there is no doubt about that,” Cabral said. “We just met with the architects (on Tuesday). Our commitment is to have the final drawings and plans in place by July 12. We hope to open by Thanksgiving.”
BUILDING INTO A TSUNAMI
Ctiy government is supposed to dream. Someone in city government has to think big and picture a future that will probably never happen.
Ken Fiola, the executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, gets those dreams and big ideas onto the table for discussion.
In his office you can find plans for a city pier with room for 100 boats and space for a fast ferry to Newport and Block Island. You can find initial sketches for a waterfront parking garage somewhere near Heritage Park. There are plans for a boathouse for racing skulls, a fishing pier and picnic area on the old Brightman Street Bridge, a boardwalk connecting all of those attractions and restaurants running for several miles along the water’s edge.
When the construction on Route 79 is finished, in 2016, the city will have eight to 10 acres along the water open for development. It will be easy to get to the waterfront by car, by bicycle or on foot. There will be spaces for transient boaters.
“Our waterfront, historically, was used by industry,” Fiola said. “You had your mills and railroads along the water and then the roads followed. But now the industrial uses have gone away.”
This is a historic moment for the Fall River waterfront, Fiola added. Fall River’s waterfront was dedicated to industry for 150 years. It is now open for recreation and the highways and railroads that cut it off from the city are being rebuilt to make the waterfront part of the city again.
“It is an incredible opportunity we are looking at right now,” he said. “If we do this right, when we are finished, we will have a waterfront that can be used for generations.”
Email Kevin P. O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org