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1980 - 1989

The nation climbs out of a deep recession, but trade recovers quickly and the 1980s bring a new and greatly expanded era of international commerce, particularly with the Far East. It is a time of hope, discovery and prosperity. For the Port of Seattle the decade brings new container terminals and air cargo facilities, airline deregulation, new international service from Sea-Tac, and the opening of U.S.-China trade. “Gateway to the Orient” was a Port theme back in the 1920s, but in the 1980s it becomes a dominant and economically rewarding theme. China’s Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping even used the term to describe Seattle during his 1979 visit.
Here, Fishy!: The public fishing pier at Terminal 86 opens, featuring an artificial reef, benches, fish cleaning stations, public restrooms, a bait station and refreshment stand.
Seven Decades and Counting: The Port turns 70! From 1911 to 1981, the Port has invested $200 million in building and maintaining regional economic vitality.
Two Firsts! The first space shuttle Columbia is launched in April, and CDs arrive in the marketplace, promising “perfect sound forever.”
Surface Freight: Deregulation of trucking and rail industries results in chaos at first, but the Port’s new Truck Contract Program provides stabilization, partnerships and improved services for trucking companies, and customs brokers. Trucks could now enter and leave markets with none of the permit-requiring restrictions. Rates were previously set by rate bureaus and meant little control for trucking companies and public ports. Competition between railroads resulted in reduced rates, which yielded higher container traffic in Seattle. Read more »
New Digs: Construction at the new Terminal 46 is complete, and APL moves from Terminal 25 just a few thousand yards north to their new digs at the new terminal.
Sea-Land: The company that launched containerization and made Seattle its West Coast base since 1965, moves to Tacoma.
Less Work: While business is good and international trade is growing in Seattle, it’s not enough to dodge a few personnel and budget cutbacks needed to survive the national recession. A slightly leaner Port moves forward.
Another Sister: Seattle and Busan, Korea sign a sister port agreement, strengthening their relationship. Busan is Seattle’s fourth sister port along with Rotterdam, Shanghai and Kobe.
By Sea and Air: “Sea-Air Cargo” service starts. Cargo arriving from Asia by sea is transported to Sea-Tac and flown to Europe.
Sally Rides: On June 18, Sally Ride becomes the first woman to go into space, riding aboard the Challenger.
Upturn: For the first time in history, more cargo crosses the Pacific Ocean than the Atlantic and Seattle welcomes an increase in trade after a three-year slump. A record $25 billion worth of cargo and 950,000 containers cross Seattle’s docks. The marketing plan works!
A Name Change - but Not for Long: The Airport is renamed to honor Senator Henry Jackson, but switches back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 1984 after protests.
More Worldly: Passenger traffic to Europe is growing dramatically and the South Satellite is expanded to keep up. The $7 million project adds an in-transit lounge, duty-free shop and four new international arrival gates.
Watching the Port: A Working Waterfront Viewpoint is dedicated at Pier 48, with close-up views through giant periscopes of a working container terminal.
Air Cargo: The first phase of an $18 million air cargo complex is completed, doubling the airport’s cargo-handling capacity.
Airlines Multiplying: Twenty-six major airlines now serve the 10 million passengers through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (now back to its original name). There were just 12 airlines before deregulation, ten of which are flying 90 international round-trips per week.
The Asian Connection: Six booming economies - Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore and Japan - make up 92 percent of imports and 82 percent of exports in Seattle. Japan is our leading trading partner, accounting for 49% of the Asian imports and exports.
Flight to Nowhere: On November 15, a Concorde supersonic airliner pays its first visit to Seattle. The next day, the plane carries passengers on a "Flight to Nowhere" over the Pacific for a Museum of Flight fundraiser.
Double Time: The Port joins forces with Burlington Northern to move container cargo to the Midwest via double-stacked rail service. This new method of double-stacking rail cars revolutionized container transport, one of the biggest innovations since the advent of containerization.
One Million: An all-time high of one million containers moves through the Seaport. Grain shipments are up also by 44 percent.
A Remedy for Noise: The Port adopts a $140-million updated program to purchase land adjacent to the airport, provide noise-insulation for existing homes, and home-selling assistance in neighborhoods most affected by aircraft noise.
Rail Yards: Burlington Northern’s new “Seattle International Gateway” intermodal rail yard runs six double-stacked trains a week, serving customers throughout Seattle. APL offers the same quick, efficient service out of Terminal 5.
Job Update: More than 83,000 King County residents now earn their livelihood, directly or indirectly, through shipping, air transportation and overseas trade.
Commission Goes Coed: Pat Davis becomes the first woman on the Port Commission. She’s joined two years later by Paige Miller.
Top Port: Port of Seattle ranks number one in exports among West Coast ports, and number two nationwide, behind only New York. Geographic advantage, double-stack train service, lower shipping rates, increased demand for U.S. goods and more steamship service all contribute.
Labor: Seattle has one of the most organized, productive labor forces in the country. From the longshoremen running the cranes to the ground operators and construction crews, the unions help make this year one of the best to date for the Port.
Expanding Again: The Main Terminal remodel and expansion is completed, adding space at the north end for more ticket counters, offices, baggage handling, waiting areas and concessions. This is much needed space for the ever-increasing passenger traffic through Sea-Tac.
More and More: Thirty-six airlines arrive and depart from Sea-Tac’s 66 gates.
Warehousing: The Port’s three warehouses with 1.25 million square feet aid significantly in importers’ efforts to move cargo destined for inland markets.

Fix Up: Much of the central waterfront is in shambles. Embarking on central waterfront redevelopment, the Port purchases Pier 69 with plans to renovate and make it the new Port headquarters. Subsequently, plans are laid for Pier 66’s demolition and the creation of the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Bell Street Cruise Terminal and Bell Harbor Marina.

Memorial: Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial Committee dedicates Fishermen’s Memorial, a towering bronze and stone sculpture honoring the men and women who have lost their lives pursuing commercial fishing. Read more »
Coming to America: Tourism promotion at the Port and the increasing number of international carriers at Sea-Tac help bring growing numbers of overseas visitors to Seattle and the Northwest.
Going International: Of the 14.5 million passengers at Sea-Tac in 1988, 1.4 million are international.
In a Flash! The Fire Department’s rapid response to emergencies helps the Port earn the “Port of the Year” Award by the Washington Public Ports Association.
Improving the Fleet’s Home: A $13 million redevelopment at Fishermen’s Terminal is complete. Improved and expanded facilities help meet the needs of the fishing fleet.
Joining Forces: The Port works with the Port of Tacoma to sponsor telecommunication programs that will help streamline business in Puget Sound.

Getting Quieter: For the first time, more than half of Sea-Tac’s flights are Stage III (the quietest) aircraft.
Double Time:  The Port not only survives the depressed economy of the 1980s - it thrives. Two-way trade amounts to $30.3 billion this year, more than twice the amount in 1979.
More FTZ: Foreign Trade Zone status is conferred on virtually all of the Port’s properties, enabling the Port to offer reduced rate or customs-free storage for importers. More on Foreign Trade Zone No. 5 »
Working Together: The Ports of Tacoma and Seattle agree to collaborate on common business goals for Puget Sound, including trade promotion, public education, joint planning and environmental issues.
No More Wall: On December 22, the Berlin Wall is torn down, and the public remembers President Reagan’s words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”