The editorial board took a field trip to the Foss Waterway Seaport today. If you haven’t been, the maritime museum is impressive. The vast timbered interior is unlike any warehouse I’ve seen. It’s the last remnant of what boosters call the birthplace of the Port of Tacoma, a mile-long string of warehouses built by the Northern Pacific Railroad to store Washington wheat.
The Dock Street building survived only through what executive director Tom Cashman calls “accidental bureaucratic wisdom.” Thirty years ago, Tacoma police needed a place to store impounded vehicles. The city gave the cops the Balfour Dock building, but warned them it was leaky. The police department slapped a new roof om the building, saving it from suffering a fate similar to the Municipal Dock Building whose demolition was decreed in 2001.
A major $7 million overhaul of the wharf in 2007 saved the Balfour building from slipping into the Foss Waterway. Now officials on planning on further improvements to shore up the 45,000-square-foot building and make it usable year-round by more groups. They need to make seismic upgrades, replace the roof, put in heating and do some interior renovation.
They’re hoping that the City of Tacoma will contribute to the restoration since it owns the building. So far, the state has been the biggest government contributor, ponying up $3 million. But public and private donors alike are starting to look askance at a project in which the owner has not yet contributed.
It might be a hard sell this year – the city is facing potential budget shortfalls. But it’s easy to get excited about what might be after hearing the Seaport guys talk.