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Council panel passes Under Armour expansion bill

The Baltimore City Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would enable sports apparel maker Under Armour to double the size of its Locust Point headquarters, hire hundreds more workers and help retain the city's last major corporate headquarters.

Under Armour, which has grown in more than a decade into a $1 billion global sports apparel brand, plans to build a large new office tower and the city's first Under Armour store. It also plans to expand other buildings on the Tide Point waterfront campus in Locust Point, a converted Procter & Gamble factory.

"We're very happy to have an opportunity to expand as our business and hiring people dictates, and this gives us the opportunity to expand," said J. Scott Plank, the company's executive vice president of business development.

Under Armour also has submitted a separate request to the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, for an undisclosed amount of tax increment financing for public improvements. The city would help finance the project by selling bonds, which would repaid by increased property taxes generated by the improvements.

The full City Council must vote on the bill.

The request for the financing will be considered by the agency's board, which would then forward a recommendation to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and would also require council approval.

The bill approved Wednesday allowed for an increase in office and retail space on the 25 acres where Under Armour owns or leases the five buildings it now occupies. The changes allow for a maximum development of nearly 1 million square feet, an increase from just over 500,000 square feet.

Under Armour plans to build an 80,000-square-foot office building with underground parking on the site of the "Tide" building, which would be demolished. The company also is considering how to connect three other buildings, "Cascade," "Dawn" and "Ivory," possibly with an atrium.

The first project likely would be a four-story building for offices and a 20,000-square-foot flagship store to showcase merchandise.

Wednesday's vote followed a public hearing at which no one spoke in opposition to plans for new development on the narrow peninsula, also home to Fort McHenry.

Michael Thompson, a Locust Point homeowner, told committee members he believed he represented his neighbors' views in saying the company had worked closely with community members to come up with plans that would benefit not only the company and its employees but also residents.

The company, which has hired about 400 people over the past five years, now has 1,200 employees in Baltimore, about 80 of whom live in Locust Point. It anticipates hiring as many as 300 this year and has brought 50 on board so far, Plank said.

"We're very fortunate to have an employer like Under Armour to come into our community," Thompson said after the hearing, adding at the same time that neighborhood residents "want to preserve our parking" and prevent traffic problems.

Plank had no estimate on either the cost of planned expansion or a timeline.

He said the company was focusing on getting some of the public waterfront improvements ready for this summer's celebration of the War of 1812 bicentennial, such as ensuring adequate berthing space for the tall ships taking part in the event.

Improvements, some of which could be paid for with tax increment financing, also will include connecting the waterfront promenade to Fort Avenue with a hiking-biking "greenway" that would go to Fort McHenry. The company also is looking at developing athletic fields that could be used for testing products and holding sports tournaments.

Under Armour moved to Baltimore from Washington in 1999 with four employees. It became a tenant at Tide Point, the former factories converted to offices by developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, after the city gave the company a loan when other lenders turned it down, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, Baltimore Development's president.

The sports brand first won a following among athletes with its sweat-wicking shirts and has expanded into numerous product lines, including footwear. In 2008, the company projected that it would outgrow its headquarters in about five years.

Councilman William H. Cole IV, who introduced the bill for the zoning change, called Under Armour's expansion important for the city.

"We should be celebrating a company we can call our own, that is growing in place," Cole said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the full City Council had approved the bill. The panel that approved the measure was the council's Land Use and Transportation Committee. The full council has yet to vote on the bill.

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