The Herald News, Monday, December 28, 2015 – Page A1

By Kevin P. O’Connor
Email: koconnor@heraldnews.com

Fall River – The 21st century is threatening to sneak onto the city’s waterfront in 2016.

From the Tipsy Seagull to the Brightman Street Bridge, projects are finished, are reaching completion or are entering the planning stages for one of the state’s least-developed urban waterfronts.

The promise that have been made for a generation are starting to look real.

“There are quite a few things going on,” said Ken Fiola, executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development.

“In the short-term, it is Commonwealth Landing.”

All the financial gears have clicked into place for Commonwealth Landing, the renovation of the former Quaker Fabric Corp. mill that the partnership of Larry Couto, Tony Cordeiro and Alan Macomber bought in 2010.

Loan agreements have been signed and carpenters will begin work in January, building the 103 market-rate unit apartments on the third, fourth and fifth floor of the building. A white tablecloth restaurant is on the way to replace Red Cedar and the pink Bean coffee shop is moving into the building as well.

Next door, work is wrapping up on a water treatment facility that already cleaned up the entrance to Bicentennial Park and the neighboring boat ramp.

Commonwealth Landing, and the apartments, are seen as the canaries in the coal mine for the city.

“The key to all of this is if market-rate apartments can succeed in Fall River,” Cordeiro said. “I believe, if we succeed, others will follow.”

“We believe we can fill these apartments. People are already calling, asking when they can sign on for one.”

The waterfront has been under construction for several years as crews tore down the Route 79 spaghetti ramps, the state ripped up and rebuilt the riverfront boardwalk and Bicentennial Park got a make-over to accommodate the water treatment plant.

That work is all wrapping up. The state Department of Transportation is prepared to solicit bids for preliminary designs on the renovation of Route 79 from The cove restaurant to the Brightman Street Bridge. The proposal is to turn Route 79 into a waterfront boulevard and to make the Brightman Street Bridge, now closed into a park.

The city is also waiting for the state to release a promised $7.5 million to build a new seawall and cap polluted soil at the City Pier. The State pier, next to Battleship Cove, has the money needed to dredge around its facility, allowing 200- and 300-foot boats the 40 feet of depth they need.

That would attract short-haul freighters and cruise boats, according to G. Curt Oliveira, chairman of the Fall River Line Pier. A few cruise ships made stops in the city last summer, with passengers going to Battleship Cove and the railroad and marine museums during the stop.

“The pier was busy every day this summer,” he said. “We are talking to another cruise ship about coming in. We are looking at the southeast corner, to make it more welcoming.

Work is underway to offer a day of activities for cruise passengers – including the waterfront museums and possibly a tour of the markets and restaurants on Columbia Street, Oliveira said.

The boardwalk will be completed by next summer, stretching from Heritage Park to Bicentennial Park. Plans are to continue the boardwalk or walking path along the waterfront to the Brightman Street Bridge.

The tennis courts and the boat ramp at Bicentennial Park have all been upgraded, as has the parking lot beside them next to Commonwealth Landing.

Which brings it all back to Commonwealth Landing. It is the new Fall River, Cordeiro said.

“We think people will travel 10 or 15 miles, will come here from Rhode Island, to live on the water,” he said. “When you get home from work you can go to a restaurant, you can run on the boardwalk, you can play tennis or go to the park, all without getting in your car.

“We think this could be the catalyst for change to the housing stock in the city. My partners and I think this is bigger than just one building.”

“We’ll show people this can work.”