The Seaport was founded in 1996 as the Commencement Bay Maritime Association to carry on the work begun in the early 1990s by "Life on the Sound" founders Phyllis Harrison and Mike Vlahovich to create community space to celebrate the art, culture, crafts and skills of Puget Sound's maritime community. Later the project became known as the Working Waterfront Maritime Museum. The name Foss Waterway Seaport was adopted in 2005 when the vision for the project grew beyond a heritage museum.

The centerpiece of our home is a century-old wheat transfer facility, known as the Balfour Dock building. It is one of two remaining wooden warehouses originally built as a mile-long complex in 1900 (pictured below). These warehouses were built to accommodate cargo carrying, square-rigged ships that frequented the port during the early years of Tacoma's history. These wharves hosted many beautiful sailing vessels, as well as steam- and diesel-powered cargo traders well into the 20th century.

The Balfour Dock building was last commercially active in the 1970s. The building is owned by the Foss Waterway Development Authority on behalf of the City of Tacoma and is leased to the Seaport organization for $1/year. This arrangement allows Seaport partners to raise and invest resources in a sustainable community-use project at a prime downtown location.