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New company names join Baltimore's evolving skyline

In a sign of renewed interest in Baltimore's downtown business district, more companies are looking to boost their visibility by splashing names and logos atop prominent Inner Harbor office towers.

In recent months, R2integrated, Lupin Pharmaceuticals and First National Bank joined the other banks and financial firms that announce their presence on the buildings they lease or own.

"For companies that are up and coming, it's a signal that they've arrived," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

Pandora, an international jewelry retailer that's considering moving its U.S. headquarters from Columbia to the Inner Harbor, has said placing its brand on a building would be part of the deal. And energy giant Exelon has approval for a sign atop a 20-story skyscraper that is just getting underway in Harbor Point for its regional headquarters.

Nearby in Canton, the growing mobile marketing firm Millennial Media plans to put its stamp on its offices at the Can Company, which is being renamed the Millennial Media Center at the Can Company.

An abundance of company names shows the strength of a commercial market, signaling that companies have invested and plan to stay, real estate experts said. Signs not only raise awareness among potential customers, they also help landlords attract tenants and can bring new business to a market, they said.

"It's encouraging to see this diversity of the workforce playing out on the tops of these buildings," Fowler said. "There's a lot of value associated with having a company's name on top of a building. It confirms … that this is a key employment center in Maryland."

R2integrated, a seven-year-old Baltimore-based digital marketing agency, moved in June 2012 into space at 400 E. Pratt St. formerly occupied by the now defunct Baltimore Examiner newspaper. Last fall, the agency extended its lease by five years, buying the signage rights it had sought since moving in.

Its sign, using color-changing LED lighting and computer technology, replaced the high-profile Examiner sign and went up in October in time to go purple for a Ravens-Steelers game, gaining TV exposure during the broadcast. The sign blazed purple on Fridays during football season and orange this spring for the Orioles' Opening Day.

"It's done a lot for us," said Matt Goddard, CEO of R2integrated. "We're a national firm, so I'm not really sure whether having a sign on the corporate headquarters is going to make or break our business — it's not ... but it feels like you've really accomplished something to be next to so many other great companies. For us to have our sign on the building, we feel privileged to be in such good company."

For Indian prescription drug maker Lupin, which has grown steadily since opening a U.S. headquarters in Baltimore more than a decade ago, an exterior sign is about declaring its commitment to the city.

The maker of about 70 generic products in the U.S. is expanding from one to two floors at Harborplace Tower at 111 S. Calvert St., adjacent to the Gallery at Harborplace. This month, Lupin erected a 10-foot-tall sign that can light up in an array of colors. The Lupin brand has been glowing white by day and green by night.

"It was time to put our name out into the public," said Mary Furlong, Lupin's executive vice president of corporate development. "We've been having a good growing business here in Baltimore and wanted people to know we are here and are committed to staying. The company is a growing business worldwide, but the U.S. is a very important market. It's about being a part of the community."

First National, a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based F.N.B. Corp., announced plans last September to open a regional headquarters and branch employing 50 people at 300 E. Lombard St. The rapidly expanding bank, which recently unveiled its logo atop a previously signless tower, is officially opening the headquarters Monday. Vincent J. Delie, F.N.B.'s president and CEO, has said when the company expands into a major metro market, it looks to be in the central business district surrounded by businesses and potential customers.

Typically, tenants agree to lock in to a certain amount of space in exchange for a landlord granting signage rights. Signs are subject to local zoning codes.

Landlords typically used to require a commitment of at least half a building, said David J. Fritz, an Ellicott City-based principal with commercial brokerage NAI KLNB.

But, he said, "over the years, as markets have softened and landlords have become more competitive to win business and fill some of these larger vacancies, tenants have been able to demand more, not only in the economics of the deal but in the ability to express their brand."

Seeing new names displayed in Baltimore's skyline has been "refreshing," Fritz said. "It means there's economic improvements."

In his experience with clients looking for space, signage has been a selling point in attracting tenants to districts or business parks, he said.

"It's nice to have the companies be their own cheerleaders," he said. "A picture is worth a thousand words. [Employers] want to be around other corporate neighbors."

Danielle Beyrodt, vice president of leasing and acquisition for Hill Management Services Inc., a Baltimore-based office property owner, said she has found demand for signage increasing among both large and small tenants.

"It is a trend even with companies that you wouldn't think need their name to be out there," Beyrodt said. "Companies are realizing that having name recognition, there's a value to that, even in companies where your business isn't necessarily coming from someone seeing your name."

Still, some companies prefer to take a more low-key approach to their high-profile digs.

For instance, T. Rowe Price, an anchor company downtown for decades, has never displayed its name atop the 100 E. Pratt St. headquarters that's home to 1,300 workers and where the financial company plans to stay through 2027. There are no plans to change that, said Brian Lewbart, a spokesman.

"It's a decision the firm has made," he said, declining to elaborate.

Interest in office tower signage downtown has picked up, however, along with the pace of development and redevelopment, said Anthony Cataldo, a design planner in the city's Planning Department. Signage in planned unit developments is subject to Planning Commission approval. Outside of such developments, signs below a roofline must meet zoning requirements governing size.

"We're seeing that if there's a major tenant in a building that they do want sort of a brand identity visible," Cataldo said. "We're seeing a lot more development picking up in recent years. The ability for one tenant to sign a downtown building seems to be a desirable marketing tool."

There's also been especially strong interest in raising the identity of the businesses in the business district because of the high visibility of a downtown on the waterfront, he said.

So far, signage on office towers has not gotten out of hand, Cataldo said, thanks to urban renewal plans that guard against "the fear of urban planners everywhere, that signage will take over."

"It is a very fine line," he said, "allowing private entities to have their ability to express themselves, while contributing to a larger city atmosphere."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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