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Under Armour unveils plans for new Port Covington headquarters

Under Armour unveils plans for new Port Covington headquarters

The project at the heart of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's multibillion-dollar redevelopment in South Baltimore came into focus Thursday as the athletic apparel brand unveiled plans for its new Port Covington headquarters — a sprawling waterfront campus featuring three skyscrapers and a small stadium.

It is the first time Under Armour has laid out publicly the vision for its new home, a project the company hopes to start this year and build over the next two decades on the peninsula jutting into the Patapsco River's Middle Branch south of Interstate 95.

The project is intended to address the company's needs as it expands globally and hires about 300 people a year in Baltimore, said Neil Jurgens, Under Armour's vice president of corporate real estate. The company's stock surged 22.5 percent Thursday as it separately reported financial growth that topped expectations, with sales just under $4 billion in 2015.

Under Armour employs about 1,900 workers in Baltimore, many at its existing headquarters at Tide Point, and expects the new campus to eventually house more than 10,000.

The plans, presented Thursday to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, are likely to kick off years of wrangling over public financing, infrastructure and environmental cleanup of the former railroad terminal site.

Jurgens said Under Armour sees the project as a catalyst for Baltimore renewal.

"We see this as a major game-changer for the city," he said. "We believe that our investment is also going to attract other investment, because when people see the commitment that Under Armour has to the city and how we're going to grow here, other people are going to want to be part of that."

The master plan calls for 3.9 million square feet of new development — about three-quarters of it office space — on about 50 acres south of Cromwell Street.

The land is owned by Plank, who has spent more than $100 million of his personal fortune to acquire about 200 acres in Port Covington and Westport.

His private real estate firm, Sagamore Development Co. LLC, is working with Elkus Manfredi Architects on a master plan for the Port Covington holdings north of Cromwell Street. The plan, presented to the city earlier this month, calls for up to 13 million square feet of mixed commercial and residential use.

On Thursday, the firm also presented designs for a park that would link the Sagamore Spirit distillery under construction to the east with the Under Armour campus.

The Under Armour campus is being designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which has worked on buildings for corporations such as Apple and Pixar Animation Studios.

The campus is conceived of as a "high-performance" space, in keeping with the Under Armour brand, with a design focused on environmental sustainability and spaces to encourage teamwork and innovation, said BCJ principal Frank Grauman.

Creating that kind of 21st-century corporate campus has not been done at this scale in an urban setting on the East Coast, said Grauman, adding that he expects the headquarters to "do a lot for this company's sense of self, but more importantly, Baltimore's sense of self."

"We expect that's a model that's going to attract worldwide attention," he said.

The site contains a recently closed Walmart and a former Sam's Club that has been converted into offices for Under Armour, with a new mezzanine level, a 350-seat theater, a cafeteria and coffee shop. More than 400 employees started working there this month, but the building is a place-holder — or "phase zero" of a four-stage development and eventually would disappear.

The master plan calls for towers of "unlimited" height and the architecture — currently glassy buildings tinged with gritty, Under Armour gray — is likely to evolve. The timing of the construction would be dictated by Under Armour's growth, Jurgens said.

The first part of the project, about 500,000 square feet over the next five years, would include two office buildings as well as spaces for product development, topped with grass and trees so they appear dug out of the landscape.

It would include 1,500 parking spaces of 5,000 eventually planned and the creation of a lake — part of a system designed to filter runoff and water pumped from the Patapsco to cool campus buildings before releasing it back into the river.

In the second stage, the firm would start on a large glass headquarters building, as well as the fieldhouse, a stadium and an expanded Ferry Bar park, Jurgens said.

Two more towers, as well as improvements on the southern waterfront, would occur in later stages.

The stadium would have a capacity of at least 5,000 and could host regional sports tournaments, Jurgens said. A boardwalk ringing the campus would be open to the public.

UDARP members praised the firm Thursday for maintaining public access to the water but said they want to see more thought go into the division between public and private spaces along the promenade, which Under Armour said would be split by landscaping and different elevations.

"If you're going to provide access to the waterfront, I think it should be a quality environment for the public," said panelist Richard Burns, who suggested that the promenade be enlarged. "I just can't believe given the land that you have that we can't just push this field there and some of these buildings up north about 10 or 12 feet so that there is a little bit more of a meaningful public realm here."

The panel which gave a preliminary approval, also pressed designers on the massive scale of the proposed parking garage and a decision to limit the wide road leading to Ferry Bar park to Under Armour cars.

Jurgens said the firm hopes to return to the panel in four to six weeks.

Sagamore has said it plans to seek public support for the Port Covington development from federal, state and local governments.

Under Armour intends to build the campus and its infrastructure privately, but it likely would be part of any district created to funnel public financing, said Jurgens, who referred questions about those negotiations to Sagamore.

Through a spokesman, Sagamore declined to comment Thursday, saying it is too early in the process.

Baltimore is committed to keeping Under Armour in Baltimore and is optimistic that the firm's plans will help the city grow while converting underutilized properties into tax-generating parcels, said William H. Cole IV, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm.

Cole declined to comment on requests for city assistance, saying Sagamore has not submitted a proposal for tax increment financing.

"Obviously, it's an incredibly important project for the city," he said. "Under Armour is a huge employer and they've done a tremendous amount of good in their time here, so we're happy to work with them. But we've got to go through a full process, like we would with any other project or developer."

Jurgens said Under Armour expects to keep staff in the Tide Point complex, which it purchased in 2011 for $60.5 million. Shuttles run every 15 minutes between the two sites.

Under Armour is working with the city and state to figure out transit alternatives such as water taxis and a possible light rail spur that would keep cars from clogging the roads, said Jurgens, conceding that those may be tough to move forward.

"We want to start talking about that now," he said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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