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As Under Armour looks to start new Port Covington campus, wrestling over transit

Rendering of the first phase of Under Armour’s new Port Covington campus, expected to include about 500,000 square feet of offices and a 1,500-car garage. It is being designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the same firm that worked on Under Armour’s master plan.
Rendering of the first phase of Under Armour’s new Port Covington campus, expected to include about 500,000 square feet of offices and a 1,500-car garage. It is being designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the same firm that worked on Under Armour’s master plan. (Courtesy of Under Armour)

Parking problems were one reason Under Armour executives went looking for land outside of Tide Point for the growing sports apparel company.

Now the issue has popped up again on their new Port Covington campus.

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The company and its real estate team presented plans to the city Thursday for the first phase of the new 50-acre headquarters, expected to include about 500,000 square feet of office buildings, a welcome center for visitors and a 1,500-space parking garage.

The firm hopes to start construction next year with the goal of opening the new buildings, which include two towers, in three to four years, said Neil Jurgens, vice president of corporate real estate for Under Armour.

But members of the Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel, an advisory group appointed by the city, said they are concerned about the current designs, worried the parking garage will create a massive wall where the campus meets the public realm and impede future development.

The designs call now for a structure that would rise more than 100 feet and stretch hundreds of feet long, along a five-lane Peninsula Drive, overlooking the Locke Insulator plant. One panel member compared the garage to a skyscraper lying on its side.

"You're asking us now to approve this massing and then assume somehow that architecturally you're going to solve this problem and make this elephant disappear, or not make it as imposing as I believe it will be," said Richard Burns, an architect and panel member. "I'm really troubled by this."

Debates over parking are a common thread in nearly every development discussion in the city. Parking issues cause friction with neighbors, but garages increase development costs and often create dead zones.

Jurgens said the firm had tried to make the garage shorter in response to earlier comments. (It has the option to build higher if necessary.)

But deputies of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank have made it clear that they believe the problems will only be resolved when Baltimore has public transit options good enough to convince people to give up their cars.

That will require more public investment than the city has seen historically, said Marc Weller, president of Plank's private real estate firm, Sagamore Development, which is overseeing the makeover of Port Covington acreage adjacent to the new Under Armour campus.

Sagamore hopes to work with partners to build thousands of new homes, offices and retail space on Port Covington.

The firm is seeking public funds for a Light Rail spur and a circulator around the peninsula. The company is working on new bike paths — to be made from glow-in-the-dark material — connecting to Port Covington.

Plank recently purchased the firm operating the city's water taxis, which also are featured in transit plans for the peninsula.

In a question-and-answer period Thursday at a real estate conference organized by Saul Ewing LLP at the Baltimore Convention Center, Charlie Duff, president of the nonprofit developer Jubilee Baltimore, suggested the project would benefit from a subway line running from Penn Station to the site.

"There's nothing we'd rather see," said Weller, adding that he hopes the pledge by President-elect Donald Trump to improve infrastructure will benefit Baltimore.

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"I would hope that President-elect Trump would consider Baltimore at the top of the list," he said.

The designs for the first phase of the Under Armour headquarters, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, will be presented in more detail to the city before Under Armour can move forward.

Jurgens declined to put a price tag on the investment.

The new buildings are capable of housing up to 1,500 workers, said Jurgens, adding that he expects those to be new hires. The firm would maintain its presence at Tide Point during this phase, he said. Later parts of the project are expected to bring a man-made lake, a small stadium and skyscrapers to the site.

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