The Puyallup Tribe and Kenmore Air announced Tuesday a planned seaplane dock and terminal on tribal lands to expand tourism in Tacoma, welcome weekenders to the South Sound and attract Canadian casino-goers.
Slated to become operational late next year, the port will have one plane for the first year offering routes to Victoria, B.C., and the San Juan Islands, in addition to sightseeing and charter flights from Tacoma. The tribe will look to add more planes in the future.
“No one else in the Sound has an operation like this,” said Puyallup tribal financial officer Matt Wadhwani. “The market is massive.”
The target audience, he said, is “the customer in the South Sound who doesn’t want to drive all the way up to Lake Union to fly out to the San Juan’s or Victoria.”
The new dock and terminal, as well as an adjacent restaurant, will be built on property along Ruston Way in Tacoma, which was purchased by the tribe in September.
The tribe hopes new seaplane operations will bring more traffic to a $400 million casino it opened in May 2020, and a hotel opened in December 2021.
Kenmore Air, which has 25 aircraft and just over 50 pilots, will operate the terminal and provide support as the tribe looks to hire workers for it.
Kenmore Air has agreed to create a tailored job training program to help the tribe find workers — ideally among members of the tribe, Wadhwani said.
The tribe will begin recruiting in the near future.
“This will create opportunities for our young people to engage in all aspects of seaplane operations including flight training, aircraft maintenance and terminal operations,” the Puyallup Tribal Council said in a news release Tuesday.
A waterfront restaurant called The Ram, which was operating on that land before the purchase and has been since, will continue to do business there, the tribe said.
A new building will be constructed to house an additional restaurant which Chef Roy Yamaguchi will helm, the tribe announced earlier this month. Yamaguchi, who is known by many as the creator of Hawaiian fusion food, will incorporate tribal seafood, locally sourced ingredients and other aspects of Indigenous cuisine.
“The cross-marketing with our casino, the jobs, the fact that no other tribe has an operation like this, and essentially there’s no competition in the South Sound, which is a huge population that we can tap into,” Wadhwani said. “We at the tribe are just incredibly excited about this opportunity.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a second reference to Chef Roy Yamaguchi.