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On deck for Port Covington's eastern district: a plaza, lookout tower and shopping zone

The eastern edge of the planned Port Covington development could get a 300-foot lookout tower on Winans Cove, a 3-acre plaza and a pedestrian shopping zone under plans that Sagamore Development, the real estate firm owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, presented to the city Thursday.

Sagamore, which owns about 160 acres in Port Covington, has been walking design plans for different zones of its properties through the city's master planning process.

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This area, along the water east of Hanover Street, includes much of the peninsula that the firm expects to develop first, building on proximity to a new Under Armour campus and the Sagamore Spirit whiskey distillery, which is currently under construction.

The designs show buildings that would rise about 125 feet lining a six-lane Cromwell Street, with stores on the ground floor and a mix of residential and office above — a scale that members of the city's Urban Design & Architecture panel compared to Pratt Street.

The road would narrow east of what is now Port Covington Drive at the plaza, as it passes a new waterfront park and the distillery, leading to a smaller-scale pedestrian zone, with retail and upper floor residences. It would also host a hotel and a large flagship Under Armour store.

The 300-foot tower, built on a pier that currently hosts two gray-hulled cargo ships in the government's reserve fleet, is designed to provide views of the harbor, said architect David Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects, which Sagamore hired to do the master plan.

New construction on piers that is not related to water use is often prohibited, but this pier is old enough to be exempt from the regulation, planning director Thomas Stosur said.

Panelists expressed concern about the width of Cromwell Street, designed to accommodate commuter traffic for the Under Armour campus, and how it would affect the feel of the area, especially in later years.

"I just wonder if the metrics of this, the width of this street, couldn't be tightened a bit," said panelist and architect Richard Burns.

Sagamore officials have said they hope to secure approval of a master plan by the end of the year. They also hope to win commitments for about $1.1 billion in federal, state and city financing for infrastructure, including road and other transportation improvements as well as sewer and water lines in the area.

Without those projects, the Port Covington development is expected to create major traffic problems on I-95 and other roads in the area, according to an application the state submitted on Thursday, seeking $76.1 million in U.S. Department of Transportation Fast Lane grants for the plan.

The federal money would be matched by about $33 million in state funding and $43 million from a proposed $535 million tax increment financing package that Sagamore is seeking from the city. The projects also include $5 million in private funding.

The money would be used to make changes to exits linking Interstate 95 to the area, parts of Key Highway, Hanover and McComas streets, and a rail alignment near the Fort McHenry tunnel.

Construction of the new infrastructure would begin in 2018 and be completed in 2022, according to the application, which is buttressed by letters of support from a phalanx of federal, state and city politicians.

The application includes a letter from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake assuring the federal Department of Transportation that the city is willing to use TIF funds toward the projects.

The state's financial commitment so far is the $33 million for the first phase of transportation projects, said Matthew Clark, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan.

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"A lot of this happens over a period of 20, 25 years," he said. "We're obviously very mindful of the long-term requirements, but we focus on it one step at a time."

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