Donning neon vests and hard hats, construction crews and developers gathered Friday for a “topping out” ceremony at the site of what eventually will be Port Covington’s Rye Street Market, the first of five buildings currently underway on the waterfront campus to have its exterior shell completed.
Topping out ceremonies, often held for the completion of towers and other large projects, are considered milestones for builders after they lay the final beam or equivalent construction material. Port Covington’s team used the occasion to thank workers and provide updates on the massive redevelopment venture, which spans 235 acres on South Baltimore’s waterfront on Cromwell Street and will include a mix of shops, restaurants, office space, parks and housing.
“The long-term career and entrepreneurial opportunities that will rise out of this historic waterfront site will be game changing for Baltimoreans from all of our great neighborhoods,” said Timothy J. Regan, president and CEO of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., the lead builder, during Friday’s event. “This Port Covington development represents a bright and inspiring future for Baltimore.”
The ambitious revitalization effort, with an eventual price tag estimated to be close to $5.5 billion, is backed by $660 million in tax increment financing, which means property taxes generated by the project will repay city bonds sold to pay for its infrastructure. It is Baltimore’s largest such deal in history.
Partners in the project include the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Ventures development firm, which originally purchased much of the land. Plank tapped Weller Development to lead the vision.
Plank’s apparel company, which had plans to build out an updated headquarters at the site to fit some 5,000 workers, has scaled back the vision due to faltering sales and the pandemic. Plans for glassy office buildings and a large sports stadium were scrapped for a proposed five-story office building and using the former Sam’s Club and Walmart stores there as offices, to fit some 1,700 employees. A multi-use sports field will complement the office park.
Under Armour’s change in direction prompted questions from city lawmakers, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council President Nick J. Mosby, who said they would ensure that TIF bonds are issued “appropriately in the best public interest,” the mayor said last spring.
Under Armour has not begun construction yet and, when asked when it would, officials there forwarded a reporter a previously issued press release, which says the new headquarters is expected to be occupied by 2025.
Meanwhile, the initial cybersecurity companies who committed to renting offices in the redeveloped Port Covington, DataTribe, AllegisCyber and Evergreen Advisors, have postponed their relocation plans.
Steven Siegel, a partner at Weller Development, said companies are reevaluating how much space they need in a post-pandemic landscape. But the future remains bright for Port Covington, he said, and the volume of office space included has not changed.
“We’ve seen a lot of traction on the cybersecurity front, continued traction, absent or outside of those guys,” Siegel said. “We’re definitely encouraged by what we’re seeing now.”
Siegel said an announcement about new tenants would be forthcoming, but did not specify when, or how many new companies have committed to leasing out space at the site.
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The current phase of construction, an estimated $500 million, 1 million-square-foot effort, includes Rye Street Market, the so-called crown jewel of the project. It will feature a food market as well as restaurants, retail, office space and a rentable events venue for weddings and other occasions overlooking the waterfront.
Other buildings in the works include apartment blocks and parking garages. A pedestrian bridge connecting Port Covington and the Westport neighborhood is in progress.
Developers acknowledged Friday the difficulties in reigning in a project of this scale under the cloud of a public health crisis. The ongoing pandemic has radically altered how much of the workforce lives, shops and travels, with many companies transitioning to all-remote or “hybrid” operations.
Siegel said Weller has concentrated on building out the office space with modern safety functions that would ideally keep infectious diseases at bay, such as adding in air flow and filtration systems.
“A lot of the best practices out there, we’ve incorporated into our buildings,” he said.
The neighborhood is currently home to Plank’s Sagamore Spirit whiskey distillery and tavern, which closed indefinitely during the pandemic, as well as Nick’s Fish House, City Garage, Impact Village — a complimentary office space for startup businesses — and Baltimore Sun Media, which has a long-term lease with the developer for its newsroom, business offices and printing plant.
This article may be updated.