FALL RIVER -- The lieutenant governor stopped by City Hall and heralded plans for a $25-million construction project that would turn a state-owned pier into a modern port facility for receiving cruise ships and freight vessels.
The Taunton River shipping facility envisioned by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and other planners would include a restaurant and a stage for performing artists to put on shows.
The enhancement of State Pier has been in the works for some time, but now Healey says the Commonwealth has secured $500,000 to pay for the final designs.
Funded largely by state bonds, the newly upgraded facility could be docking cruise ships and other vessels by 2007 or the year after, officials said.
"It's a great day," said Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., who joined Healey at a news conference.
"It's another very important step," Lambert added.
Healey described the project as an effort to return Fall River to a bygone era when the city welcomed large numbers of ships.
"The days of Fall River being a major port destination are coming back," Healey said. "I am very pleased that we are able to contribute to this effort."
The upgraded pier would help anchor the northern end of a domestic shipping network being planned by the federal government, according to the secretary of the Seaport Advisory Council, Richard Armstrong.
Armstrong said Cape Canaveral, Fla., is the southernmost port in the proposed shipping initiative, is known as Short Sea Shipping.
"This terminal is very much a part of that network," Armstrong said.
Led by the Maritime Administration, the federal government is trying to develop coastal shipping systems in an attempt to take the load off the highways and railroads.
However, the state will use bonds to raise about 75 percent of the money needed to pay for the local port project, Armstrong said.
The remainder of the money will come from revenues generated by the port facility itself, he said.
A Massachusetts design firm, Cambridge Seven Associates, has been commissioned to design the new facility.
The design work involves setting design criteria, analyzing the site and programs, and developing architectural drawings.
Overseen by the state Division of Capital Asset Management, the work is expected to be complete in the fall.
Soon after that, officials will be ready to accept bids on the project.