In their search for an economic boost over the years, Fall River leaders have looked far and wide for new opportunities, but seldom have they made a play for beach traffic – until now.
A new Fall River-to-Block Island ferry route is in the works courtesy of Mayor William Flanagan, who sees an opening to draw fried clam and sand seekers fed up with Martha’s Vineyard crowds or the long and sometimes slow drive to Point Judith.
“I am always looking for ways to improve economic development and New Bedford has been very successful in launching the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard,” Flanagan said about the ferry idea. “Throughout the year you see people there stopping for coffee before getting on the boat and then, after they spend the day, they come back and have dinner along the harbor. New Bedford has a pretty strong hold on the Vineyard, so that took me to Block Island.”
Flanagan wants to run a single-trip, trial voyage from the Fall River state pier to Block Island on a weekend in late June and is currently searching for an operator and place to land the ferry on the island.
After the trial run, Flanagan plans to commission a market study of the route with an eye toward luring a ferry company to run a permanent seasonal service for 2013 and beyond.
It’s part of a larger effort to bring activity to the Fall River waterfront and utilize a state pier that’s set for a $3.5 million upgrade over the next three years. It comes along with other development schemes such as a Fall River casino or convincing Google to open an office in the city instead of in and around Boston.
But whether launching a new ferry line to Block Island makes business sense will take some proving.
The ferry industry is notoriously difficult to make profitable and Flanagan is targeting a combination of southeastern Massachusetts, Boston and Providence-area demand that may or may not exist.
Along with the backbone ferry from Point Judith, Interstate Navigation Company Inc. also runs a seasonal ferry from Fort Adams State Park in Newport to Block Island. That ferry would presumably already draw some of the Massachusetts and East Bay Rhode Island market Fall River is targeting.