Newport News is about to launch an $80,000 market study to determine the economic feasibility of developing an $8 million to $10 million cruise berth and terminal facility for possible cruise operations in the one- to seven-day range.

The eastern Virginia city, which has a metropolitan area population of 1.3 million within a 40-mile radius of the projected facility, is hoping that the study recommends that it proceed with plans to build an 800-foot finger pier and two-story terminal that can accommodate up to 600-passengers.

Paul Miller, the city's director of planning and economic development, said that the study and potential cruise facility is a "50-50 joint project" between the city of Newport News and the Virginia Port Authority.

"We're very eager to determine whether it could be economically profitable to get involved in anything from one-day cruises to something like three-day inland waterway cruises or seven-day coastal sailings," Miller said. "We're looking at an area of 15 acres of waterfront property that the city owns just five minutes from downtown."

While three different one-day cruise operations currently carry about 60,000 passengers a year on a series of harbor cruises, Miller noted that Newport News has only attracted about eight cruise ship calls a year and that the vessels are currently forced to dock at the Newport News Cargo Pier facility.

He explained that the Bermuda Star, the Sagafjord and the Monterey have called recently on either repositioning cruises along the East Coast or sailings to Bermuda.

Miller said that Newport News signed the contract with the Miami-based market research and architectural and engineering design firm of Post, Buckley, Schuh and Jernigan and that the study was expected to begin by early October. He added that initial plans call for a 60-foot wide finger pier and that he doesn't think that any dredging would be necessary for the projected two-berth pier.

Miller also noted that the initial plans call for a two-story terminal building and that "longer range" plans might include a series of restaurants and some shops on the lower level of the terminal building. He added that city officials are also hoping that the terminal facility could be used to lease space for such functions as boat or car shows in the off-season.

"We think that Newport News is very well situated to operate some shorter cruises to the Chesapeake Bay and some inland waterways cruises to places like Jamestown and even to be included as a stop on coastal or repositioning cruises along the East Coast," Miller said. "We think that cruising is something that 'is in the air' these days and we want to see if we can take advantage of that."

Vice President Louis Ajamil of Post, Buckley, Schuh and Jernigan said that the firm signed the contract on Sept. 23 and "will look at everything from market feasibility to potential for parking, transportation, airlift and even gangways." He noted that Post, Buckley had performed similar market studies over the past few years for the ports of Boston, Galveston, Seattle, St. Petersburg and two in St. Thomas.