Lisa DeSantis remembers parking her car inside Recreation Pier, which for years stood rotting at the foot of Fells Point. There was no room for that on Tuesday.
A crowd of people jammed into the building, mounting red-carpeted stairs to celebrate its reopening as a $350-plus-a-night hotel, with a whiskey bar, ballroom and interior garden. Broad-shouldered security guards scanned the street, black SUVs slid into parking slots and passersby gawked at the affair.
"It's just amazing to watch it from the beginning until now," said DeSantis, a manager at the Waterfront Hotel restaurant and bar located across Thames Street.
The 128-room Sagamore Pendry Hotel is a venture backed by Kevin and Scott Plank, who each started private real estate firms, after making their fortunes on the meteoric growth at Under Armour, a Baltimore-based athletic apparel company.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank had a scheduling conflict and remained at the firm's offices across the harbor during Tuesday's ribbon-cutting. His brother, Scott, who left Under Armour in 2012, was on hand to mark the opening, along with Gov. Larry Hogan, Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
"Is this not exciting?" Pugh asked to applause.
Built in 1914, Recreation Pier originally stored port cargo. The building was later used as a community center and served as a television studio for "Homicide: Life on the Street" but closed after the show ended in 1999.
The city approved a plan for a hotel there in 2004. In 2010, it sold the deteriorating waterfront parcel for $2 million to a development team that included H&S Properties Development.
The Plank venture purchased the site four years later for $3.4 million, later bringing in California-based Montage Hotels & Resorts — known for high-end properties in Hawaii, Beverly Hills and Utah — to operate the hotel under its "new luxury" Pendry brand. The cost of the project has been estimated at more than $60 million.
"A lot of people have said to themselves they want to do something on Rec Pier," said Scott Plank, who founded real estate development firm War Horse after leaving Under Armour. "To be able to get these folks to believe in Baltimore, to believe in us and to believe in everybody in this room ... is an incredible honor for us. Look at the other places they have spots — it really puts us in a great place, both the city and us personally."
Michael Fuerstman, co-founder of Pendry Hotels, said Tuesday the firm aims to "bring some great swagger" to the Baltimore hotel market, while building on the history of the neighborhood.
The hotel, which is accepting room reservations and plans to open its food and beverage spots in a few days, is the latest high-end property to open in Baltimore, after the Four Seasons in Harbor East and the Ivy Hotel in Mount Vernon. Plank shrugged off a question about competition, saying he believes each addition makes the city more attractive.
Workers at nearby businesses, who have seen disruption and noise caused by construction for more than two years, said they also welcome the opening and expect it to bolster business in the area.
DeSantis watched as small groups started to peel off from the crowd, headed to nearby coffee shops and restaurants.
"See," she said. "People are coming in already."