Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank touts Port Covington at real estate conference

Sagamore is front and center at International Council of Shopping Centers conference.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called Baltimore's commitment to help pay for roads and parks in his Port Covington redevelopment a model for public-private partnerships as he pitched his redevelopment plans during a speech Monday at a New York real estate conference.

Plank delivered the keynote address at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in New York City. His real estate firm, Sagamore Development, was one of the key sponsors of the conference, which the ICSC said drew more than 10,000 retailers, landlords, brokers and developers.

Plank used this speech to tout Under Armour's growth and build awareness of his goals for the acreage he has amassed in South Baltimore, where Under Armour plans to build a new campus adjacent to 42 blocks of new housing, retail and office space.

Sagamore brought more than a dozen people to the New York conference. The company sponsored free Wi-Fi and hosted a whiskey tasting for a crowd at its large booth.

Plank invited his audience to the booth: "Go take a look and see what we're building."

Sagamore President Marc Weller said company representatives have attended other ICSC events, but the appearance Monday was its most prominent.

"We wanted a real presence here in order to tell our story," he said.

The company is courting partners for the $5.5 billion redevelopment. Sagamore expects to sell land to other developers for much of the new construction, but is also looking for firms interested in locating in the area or investing in projects there.

"It's about brand awareness and finding the right partners," Weller said. "And I'm not going to narrowly define partners. … We're here to get out there."

Conference attendee Jeffrey H. Newman, who heads the real estate practice at the Newark, N.J.-based Sills Cummis & Gross law firm, said he was "absolutely impressed" by Plank's pitch, which promoted Under Armour and touched on Plank's plans for the city's water taxis, his Sagamore Spirit whiskey and horse racing, among other investments.

(A slide showing Plank's Port Covington domain — he owns more than 150 acres, much of it on the waterfront — drew an audible "whoa" from the crowd during his speech.)

Newman said he thought Plank's speech would generate interest in Baltimore among investors who had not considered the city before. But, he added, he would need more details to say if that would translate into deals.

"I have to do my homework," he said.

Weller said Sagamore hopes to start construction of the Port Covington infrastructure by the end of 2017, with new buildings to be started the year after. The firm, which did not succeed in its bid for federal transportation funds last summer, is trying to win a grant for part of the project.

The Maryland delegation to Congress sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week in support of the $5.5 billion plan.

"The project will transform an industrial brownfields site," Rep. John Sarbanes and others wrote, urging award of grant money to support changes to Interstate 95.

The federal funds would complement other public financing. Baltimore has committed to borrowing up to $660 million to help finance the redevelopment. New property tax revenue generated by the project would go to repay those bonds.

Plank highlighted that tax increment financing, or TIF, deal on Monday, saying he thinks it should be replicated.

"This TIF … it's more than just infrastructure. It's a model, I believe, of what public and what private partnership can look like," he said. "If you think about especially the agenda [of President-elect Donald J. Trump] ... it's about how that approach with business can be so much more helpful, and I think that's what starts to create the opportunity and vision of what can be."

Plank stressed that his primary job is running Under Armour, a publicly traded company that expects to bring in nearly $5 billion in revenue this year. But he said his private investments in Baltimore, including in Port Covington, will benefit the company by boosting its public image.

"This populist shift that we're seeing in America right now and frankly across the world is something that's not just limited to politics," he said. "If you're not thinking today about how your brand is going to react … I think you're making a big mistake."

nsherman@baltsun.com

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