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Port Covington renamed Baltimore Peninsula, ushering in new brand and new chapter

Port Covington, the once-industrial South Baltimore waterfront that is being redeveloped, is getting a new name to go with its future as a place to live, work, shop and gather.

Starting Tuesday, the massive project south of Interstate 95 will be called Baltimore Peninsula.

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The name change, announced Tuesday morning by developers, is the most visible part of a rebranding by a newly installed development team and aims to focus on the area’s future instead of its past.

“We find ourselves at a moment in time, a moment in time where we can think big and carry on the momentum and be all in,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder and CEO of New York-based MAG Partners, which along with San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners, took over in May as lead developer and investors with owners Sagamore Ventures and Goldman Sachs.

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“It’s not a project. It’s a place,” Gilmartin said. “It’s a neighborhood. It’s a home. It’s a headquarters. So it’s time to call the project what we want it to be forever.”

Developers wanted to re-direct thinking about the project with a “powerful” brand that would be clear, authentic, easily recognizable and that “conveys the character and personality of what it represents,” Gilmartin said.

She added that the site is more of a peninsula than a port and that developers believe in Baltimore as a brand, especially in marketing outside the city.

“That’s what we’re pitching,” she said. “We think Baltimore is amazing.

Baltimore Peninsula was chosen from about 50 names, including the current name, over about six months, with the help of consultants and project owners including Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.

Developers, said they hope all of the Port Covington neighborhood, where they own about 80% of the real estate, will embrace the new name. Other developers are operating separately in Port Covington, some building homes while Under Armour is building a global headquarters on 50 acres owned by the company.

But the rebrand met with a social media backlash, with Baltimore area Twitter users Tuesday criticizing the name as “bland” or “dull.” Some complained that the broader area already is referred to as the South Baltimore peninsula, while others said the new name ignored the land’s long history as a military fort and a railway export terminal. Others said it looked clearly to have come from “out of town” developers.

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One marketing expert, who has grown up in and owns a business in Baltimore, criticized the name as awkward and artificial.

“I think the name’s a mouthful,” said Matt McDermott, president and CEO of advertising firm Harvey Agency. “It sounds like some part of a banana republic somewhere. I think Port Covington is a familiar name. It rolls off the tongue.”

“Baltimore Peninsula is just ghastly,” he said. “Baltimore is all about its personality. When you strip something like that away, you take a little bit of the quirk away as well. And Baltimore is quirky as hell.”

But he acknowledged he’s likely not the intended audience, and said backlash is inevitable in cases of dramatic change to something people are comfortable with, no matter how good the branding.

Howe Burch, the former president of Baltimore ad agency TBC and now a principal in Twelve Consulting in California, said he always liked the Port Covington name and saw the area as a beacon for what Baltimore redevelopment could become. But he said he understands why the new developer would want to rebrand and change the name, especially as they seek national office tenants.

“It’s probably an easier sell with the name Baltimore in the brand than Port Covington, which if you’re not from Baltimore is not easily recognizable,” he said. “It’s going to take more than just an interesting name and a logo for the development to succeed.

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“It’s certainly going to take a commitment from some other major brands, who will put their stake in the ground,” Burch said. “Then it’s really going to be on the developers to deliver on the promise of the entire development experience.”

The rebranding comes at a time when the project’s first five buildings are nearing completion, including two office buildings and three residential buildings, with the the first office tenants and apartment residents to start moving in early next year. The 1.1 million square feet of offices, apartments, a hotel, retail and parks is the $500 million first phase of a project eventually planned to hold 14 million square feet on 235 acres.

“Baltimore is an incredibly special place to me — it is home — and it is rewarding to see the culmination of all the great work that has been done to-date,” said Plank, principal and CEO of Sagamore Ventures, in Tuesday’s annoncement.

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An official grand opening for Baltimore Peninsula is being planned for next September.

Gilmartin said developers are working on finalizing leases with two tenants for the office building on the newly named House Street by the first quarter of next year, which would fully occupy the building. One of those tenants is expected to be CFG Bank. A second office building will house Rye Street Market, and H. Chambers Co., an architecture and interior design firm, will move into 9,000 square feet in that building in March.

“The philosophy for the commercial space is not to cannibalize the Inner Harbor and to move tenants around Baltimore but to go wider on a national strategy,” Gilmartin said.

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The five buildings under construction in Port Covington, which is being renamed Baltimore Peninsula, are shown in this file photo. They are the first phase of a larger redevelopment of the area.

The first phase also includes 250 Mission, a 162-unit apartment building, and Rye House, a 254-unit apartment building, a 121-unit residential building with an extended-stay hotel, a parking garage and a park. Leasing for the apartments, which include affordable housing units, will start in the first quarter and the first residents are expected to move in by March.

Early on in its planning, the project sparked controversy when Sagamore sought and the City Council approved a record-breaking $660 million in tax increment financing bonds to help support the development, which has faced delays and changed focus over time. The new buildings have sprouted alongside Sagamore’s earlier developments, Rye Street Tavern and Sagamore Spirit Distillery. The Baltimore Sun leases its office in the Port Covington development.

Developers hope to announce the start of another office building next year, with a company headquarters type of tenant in place, and another apartment building, Gilmartin said.

“Obviously with the headwinds in the economy, it remains to be seen if we can do that,” she said, though “the residential market is quite robust in Baltimore.”


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