Pandora soon will add its logo to the city's skyline as the company relocates its regional headquarters for the Americas and about 250 employees to Baltimore from Columbia by early 2015.
The Danish jeweler known for its charm bracelets announced Thursday that it will lease five floors of the building at 250 W. Pratt St. with rights to place its bright-white logo on two sides of the skyscraper, easily visible from the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The move should serve the dual purpose of increasing Pandora's prominence in the region while accommodating the growing retailer's workforce, said Scott Burger, president of Pandora Americas.
"When you talk about getting your brand out there and making people aware of the fact that you're there, we think having people drive up and down [Interstate] 95 or seeing an Orioles game at Camden Yards, seeing that we're located prominently in the city, is a good thing for us," Burger said.
Pandora's relocation marks a "tipping point in the right direction" for the downtown, said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
"Pandora is bringing an international brand to downtown, and I think it's very healthy for a building to have a name on it that is adding to the names of financial firms and insurance companies and diversifying the skyline," Fowler said.
Pandora generated $1.6 billion in revenue last year, a figure Burger said he expects will continue to increase in the United States, which is the company's largest and fastest-growing market. It sells in more than 2,800 retailers nationwide, including about 1,000 Pandora franchise stores, such as the one at the Harborplace & The Gallery.
Pandora will join a handful of other companies — Lupin Pharmaceuticals, First National Bank and R2integrated — that recently splashed logos on the downtown buildings they call home.
Fowler called them signs that Baltimore has "turned the corner" on recession-era struggles that sent some businesses packing.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the move good news for the city.
"I am very excited Pandora is moving its regional headquarters to Downtown Baltimore," she said in a statement. "Baltimore City is a place where businesses increasingly want to locate because the city offers a live, work, play environment that companies require to attract and retain professional talent in today's economy."
Baltimore's gain is something of a loss for Howard County, where Pandora Americas has been located for the past nine years. The company will retain its offices in the Columbia Gateway Business Park, leaving about 150 workers to run the supply chain, customer service and distribution departments.
Pandora only moved into the Columbia building in 2011, but started experiencing growing pains there within 18 months, Burger said.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he "fought hard" to keep Pandora's headquarters in the county, but he wishes the company "nothing but the best for continued growth in the region." Ulman said he showed Pandora several potential sites for the company's new headquarters — including Maple Lawn and downtown Columbia.
"One of the things it does point out for downtown Columbia is we need some more office space," Ulman said. "There's a lot of interest in the [Columbia] Town Center. The challenge for somebody right now in the Baltimore region is when you have a need of over 100,000 square feet, and you want to move in right away, the market seems to be getting a little tighter."
The Baltimore Development Corp. will work with Howard County to include Pandora's warehouse in the regional foreign trade zone, said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake. The retailer's new office downtown is included in the city's enterprise zone, which offers businesses property and employment tax credits.
Pandora considered more than 60 locations before deciding on this one in downtown Baltimore, Burger said.
While the company considered he locations in Howard County, it ultimately couldn't find a space that combined business needs with employee wants, Burger said. The old Columbia location was just too "out of the way," he added.
"I remember when I went to our last location to interview 61/2 years ago," Burger said. "I pulled up and had to double-check the address to make sure I was at the right place. Having a headquarters like we're going to have at 250 W. Pratt provides a level of legitimacy that, frankly, we didn't have before."
Burger said Pandora workers — who tend to be younger than the U.S. workforce average of 42 — were looking for the appeal of an urban setting in a glass-enclosed space designed to foster the kind of creativity that faltered in the old Columbia office park.
Pandora signed a 10-year lease for 87,862 square feet in the West Pratt Street building owned by the Dallas-based real estate investment trust TIER REIT. The employees to be relocated there will have administrative, sales, accounting, finance and IT positions.
Pandora employs about 750 people in the United States. In addition to the 250 moving downtown and 150 remaining in Columbia, it employs an outside sales force of 350 people.
Renovations to the new space, led by national firm Gensler, are scheduled to start in September, and the move is expected to occur in early 2015. Gensler plans to design an open office featuring lattice patterns inspired by Pandora's familiar gold and silver swirls.
Employees "wanted something that's a bit more open than what we have now," Burger said. "We have a lot of creative people on the team, and they like the natural light, the openness of the design, the ability to meet in a more casual type of setting [rather] than some stuffy conference room."
The Baltimore Development Corp. worked with Pandora for the last seven months to select the spot in Baltimore.
Pointing out the West Pratt Street building's proximity to the Inner Harbor and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Brenda McKenzie, the BDC's president and CEO, said the area is "a natural fit for international-type companies that need to access multiple points in the U.S. and abroad."
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.
Unit of Pandora Group, based in Copenhagen, Denmark
•Sales: $1.4 billion in 80 countries
•U.S. employees: About 750 overall, with about 250 moving to downtown Baltimore
•U.S. retailers: More than 2,800, including about 1,000 Pandora franchise stores
•Cool fact: In 2011, more than one piece of Pandora jewelry was sold every second worldwide