Building Mission

The Balfour Dock Building under construction, 2012

Foss Waterway Seaport is housed in the historic Balfour Dock Building on the Thea Foss Waterway. The building houses historic maritime exhibits, including hands-on activities for children; an operating Heritage Boat Shop; an education center highlighting marine and environmental science inquiry and exploration; and high-end event rental spaces for public and private events. In addition, there are over 1200 feet of docks and floats for educational and recreational use.

The Seaport realizes a decades-old dream to create an activities-focused waterfront public space. The Seaport aims to reconnect downtown Tacoma to the “Old City Waterway” through:

  • Saving the century-old Balfour Dock Building for another hundred years
  • Providing the home for an enhanced maritime museum
  • Expanding the Heritage Boat Shop
  • Creating education programs which highlight marine and environmental science
  • Presenting exhibits that pay remember the long maritime and marine history of the Puget Sound region

Restoration & Construction

Improvements to the facility were and are being accomplished in several phases.

Phase I included securing of the building and outdoor public spaces.  This phase was completed 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.

Concept art for enclosed Heritage Wooden Boat Shop, coming soon

Phase II, which included a new roof, fire suppression improvements, and seismic upgrades, was completed in 2010-2011.

The first part of Phase III which included the building exterior, science program space, exhibits and interior finish and a heating system 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 second portion of Phase III, which included restoration and reconstruction of the building exterior, science program space, interior finish and enhanced exhibits, new seminar rooms and offices, and a heating and cooling system was completed in 2017.

We are currently engaged in a new phase of our ongoing restoration and renovation project, which is the design (completed) and installation (in progress) of general and accent LED lighting to illuminate the Balfour Dock Building. The result will highlight the historic structure from both interior and exterior views, and will result in a “beacon” effect spilling from the clerestory windows. The new energy-efficient fixtures will not only better illuminate the building and our exhibits, but will also reduce the Seaport’s operating costs.

Planned improvements include enclosing the Heritage Wooden Boat Shop. The growth and development of the Balfour Dock Building is ongoing.