Located at Tacoma’s original deep-water dock and moorage site, the Seaport realizes a decades-old dream to create an activities-focused waterfront public space for everyone by reconnecting downtown Tacoma to the "Old City Waterway" through:
- Saving the century-old Balfour Dock Building for another hundred years of community service
- Providing the home for an enhanced Working Waterfront Maritime Museum
- Expanding our Heritage Wooden Boat Shop
- Presenting exhibits about ship building, the Port of Tacoma, waterfront businesses, industry and labor
Currently, the Foss Waterway Seaport operates out of a portion of the historic Balfour Dock Building on the Thea Foss Waterway. The building houses exhibits and the “Discovery Wharf” exhibit with hands-on activities for children that teach about the Puget Sound, sea life, the Port of Tacoma and boating safety; an operating Heritage Wooden Boat Shop; and space for highlighting marine and environmental science inquiry and exploration. In addition, there are docks and floats for educational and recreational use.
The Foss Waterway Seaport is currently working with a number of school districts, private independent schools and higher education institutions to provide programs to enrich students’ understanding of marine ecology and maritime history of the Tacoma region and the importance of Puget Sound to the region.
These programs include K-12 and college age students taking part in instruction and tours within the Balfour Dock Building as well as on-water marine and environmental science programs through Foss Waterway Seaport’s Science on the Sea, in partnership with a variety of marine research vessel providers. In the past 12 months, 600 students have taken part in Foss Waterway Seaport-sponsored programs and tours, in addition to our 16,000 visitors in 2011.
The Balfour Dock Building is located at the original home of Tacoma’s port and is the oldest remaining intact building linked to Tacoma’s commercial and industrial maritime beginnings. The historic Balfour Dock Building is the last remaining segment of what was known as the “mile-long wheat warehouse” and a tangible link to the unique trading history of the Evergreen State.
From the time the last commercial occupant left the grand old building in the mid-1970s, the building sat fallow, used as a city storage facility, but slowly rotting away into the Foss Waterway until 1996, when it was “rediscovered” by boating and history buffs who recognized what profound value the building could add to Tacoma’s rebirth and to the region’s understanding of its history and environment. Since 2003, the Foss Waterway Seaport organization has been aggressively moving forward to implement a compelling adaptation of its venue for long-term community educational and recreational use.
Improvements to the facility are being accomplished in several phases: Phase I, securing of the building and outdoor public spaces, was fully funded and completed ahead of schedule and on-budget in May 2008. More than $7 million was invested to replace almost 400 feet of rotted original wharf adjacent to and beneath approximately one-third of the building that stands over the water. These funds also provided for the installation of permanent pilings to support an eventual 1,200 linear feet of permanent docks and floats for short-term transient public moorage at the Foss Waterway Seaport. This construction investment created a modern, safe and exciting esplanade with improved public access to the community waterfront and prevented the building’s further deterioration and collapse into the Thea Foss Waterway.
Phase II, the new roof, fire and seismic upgrades, was fully funded and completed in 2010-2011. The first part of Phase III began construction in March 2012, with the removal of the aging brick front of the building and the installation of a dramatic clear wall of glass and entryway on the north end of the block-long facility. The Seaport's education programs, guest moorage, and special events continue to be offered during the 2012 construction, while volunteer opportunities in our Heritage Wooden Boat Shop continue by prior arrangement, and maritime displays in our Exhibit Hall remain closed. The Seaport's Exhibit Hall will re-open for public access to enjoy our "new look" in spring 2013.
The remaining goal of $8 million will fund the balance of Phase III, which includes the building exterior, science program space, exhibits and interior finish and a heating system. The targeted date for completion of fundraising and development of the building "envelope" is 2014. When the entire project is completed, Foss Waterway Seaport will be the largest maritime heritage and education center on the West Coast.
We invite visitors to join us in the spring of 2013 for the exciting re-opening of the "new" Seaport!