The once sleepy and rotting remains of the 116-year-old Balfour Dock Building have methodically transformed in the last decade, transitioning from being the last remaining section of the once mile-long waterfront warehouse into an educational center honoring the city’s waterfront history and teaching people about the issues the waterfront will continue to face.
The 30-year-old Foss Waterway Seaport now houses the “Discovery Wharf” that offers hands-on activities for children that teach about the Puget Sound, sea life, the Port of Tacoma and boating safety. There’s also the Heritage Wooden Boat Shop where volunteer boat builders work on projects for all to observe, and a collection of maritime exhibits the non-profit effort has gathered during the passing decades.
The final phases of the multi-year renovation effort that tops $8 million are now coming to an end, making it possible for the Seaport to operate year round for the first time, courtesy of a new heating system.
Now the real work begins.
“The key now, I think, is to stay ahead of the curve,” Director Wesley Wenhardt said. “We’re looking at beginning some regularly scheduled series over four Thursdays or four or five Wednesdays. Perhaps father or mother and son or daughter programs or ‘mom and me’ things for younger children on weekdays. We want to increase the use of the space on all days and all hours of the day.”
Foss Waterway Seaport staffers are, for example, working with a number of schools 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 overall.
The effort currently has students from Stadium High School working alongside marine biologists to clean and piece together a 23-foot Humpback whale skeleton that will go on display by the end of the year. An installation celebration is set for December 14, 2016, that will include presentations from the students about what they learned throughout the process.
“It’s a wonderful partnership with Tacoma Public Schools,” Seaport Director of Education Jan Adams said.
Other programs range from grade-school classes about pollution and marine life to college-level lectures about nautical history and maritime research. The seaport is also expanding its calendar to have programs and special events several times a month, as well as a revolving schedule of exhibits to offer something of interest to everyone.
Those activities will range from special presentations to musical events and lectures to flesh out the calendar and tie into the roster of Tacoma’s other cultural hubs, namely the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass and Washington State History Museum. Shared events and promotions will help bolster the Foss Waterway Seaport’s “hidden location” tucked along the Foss Waterway that makes it almost invisible from downtown sightseers.
Its location on the Foss Waterway, however, becomes the center of Tacoma during Maritime Fest every summer, which draws tens of thousands of people. Those numbers will likely jump tenfold next summer as June 2017’s Festival of Sail will bring tall ships from around the world to the seaport as part of a larger West Coast tour.
Among the ships already committed to the event is the Lady Washington, a full replica of a Revolutionary War-era brig that had the distinction of being the first American ship to visit Hawaii, Hong Kong and Japan. Over the years, Lady Washington has appeared in several motion pictures and television shows, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Star Trek: Generations,” “Once Upon A Time” and “Revolution.”
“That’s going to be huge,” Wenhardt said. “It’s going to be great.”