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Under Armour downsizes plans for Port Covington headquarters in Baltimore in wake of pandemic

Under Armour plans to redevelop its waterfront land in South Baltimore’s Port Covington as a global headquarters by 2025, consolidating all 1,700 Baltimore-based employees there and making remote work that began with the pandemic a permanent fixture.

The Baltimore-based athletic apparel brand, which already has some corporate offices on its 50 acres on the peninsula jutting into the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch south of Interstate 95, said it has re-imagined its workplace for the next 15 years as a hybrid work-from-home and work-from-office model.

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That means the sports apparel maker will need much less space than it leases and owns at its Tide Point headquarters in nearby Locust Point. And it will need far less space than originally projected in 2016, just before years of rapid brand growth skidded to a halt and put plans for the new headquarters on hold.

“The business has had its headwinds and struggles and that sort of thing, and we’ve worked through those,” said Neil Jurgens, Under Armour’s senior vice president of real estate, during a virtual media briefing Monday. “Building on lessons learned ... over the past 14 months as COVID-19 impacted all of us, we’ve looked at how we do our work and what does it mean to have a work-life integration that is the basis for our new workplace.”

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The company unveiled a four-year plan to develop a new five-story office building, partially renovate an existing building and carve out an athletic complex with a multiuse sports field, NCAA-regulation track and seating for 1,400 spectators on the site. The athletic complex will be open for public use and an Under Armour Brand House store will open in the new office building.

Workers will relocate in phases from several buildings in Locust Point and the City Garage location in Port Covington, where Under Armour currently operates its Lighthouse innovation, design and manufacturing facility.

“Under Armour’s global headquarters at Port Covington will become the primary home to our Americas business and our core global functions,” Patrik Frisk, Under Armour CEO and president, said in an announcement.

Company officials had no cost estimates for the headquarters project. They emphasized that it is separate from the Port Covington mixed-use project under construction on an adjacent parcel, even though Under Armour founder Kevin Plank is one of the owners of that development.

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In 2013 and 2014, Plank spent more than $100 million of his personal fortune to acquire about 200 acres in Port Covington and Westport for a new Under Armour campus surrounded by mixed-use development of offices, residences, stores, restaurants and parks. He envisioned a new neighborhood on what was essentially fallow former industrial land. (Among the properties he acquired is the printing plant for The Baltimore Sun, for which the newspaper has a long-term lease.)

Under Armour acquired its 50 acres from Plank in 2016 for $70.3 million.

A development team led by Weller Development Co., backed by Plank’s Sagamore Ventures and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, began work on the mixed-use project more than four years ago. Last month, state and city officials, business leaders and community activists marked the start of the project’s second phase, which will include more than 1 million square feet of shops, offices, apartments and parking, plus parks.

For that Port Covington project, city officials approved a controversial $660 million tax increment financing deal in 2016, the largest ever for Baltimore. The city will float the bonds to build infrastructure and the developer will repay the bonds through future taxes. The New York investment bank Goldman Sachs invested $233 million in 2017 to become a partner.

Jurgens on Monday said the Under Armour project will be fully owned and developed by the company and will not make use of any of the TIF money.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in an email Monday that he was “grateful for Under Armour’s commitment to grow in Baltimore City.”

Scott said his administration is exploring opportunities and potential implications of the new development. That includes conferring with outside legal counsel to ensure that TIF bonds are issued “appropriately in the best public interest,” the mayor said.

Planning for a post-pandemic workplace for Under Armour started last year with surveys of employees who have been working remotely, said Tchernavia Rocker, the company’s chief people and culture officer. Results showed that 84% believed they have been productive working from home, while 70% said they still feel they need some time in the office to work with colleagues.

“We had a lot of conversations with our executive leadership team to get everybody really comfortable with the idea of ‘it will never be the same,’ and since it will never be the same, how can we adapt?” Rocker said.

At the new headquarters, about 1,000 people, or about 65%, are expected on campus at any one time, Jurgens said. Office space will be designed for individuals who need to be on campus every day, such as in manufacturing, as well as for those who rotate in and out of the buildings and can share space.

The transition will begin in the middle of next year when Lighthouse manufacturing workers, part of the product and innovation teams, will move to Building 37, a 170,000-square-foot former Sam’s Club that has been a corporate office building used for administrative functions and is being renovated. The second existing building, a former Walmart known as “Building 96,” will continue to be used occasionally as assembly and retail testing space.

The athletic venue will be completed in late 2022, Jurgens said. It also will include basketball court, locker rooms and restrooms. It will be used mostly to test products and sports marketing and will be available to employees and Under Armour athletes.

“But a key element here is the community being able to use it,” Jurgens said. “We’re going to be working with fully activating the space, with nonprofits, schools. We’re looking forward to ‘Friday Night Lights’ here as well as just drop-in access.”

Under Armour unveiled plans Monday for its new global headquarters in Port Covington in Baltimore. Re-imagined for a post-COVID environment, this new location will consolidate the company’s global corporate functions into one location. Project plans include a new five-story office building, shown in the foreground, renovations to two buildings already on site and an athletic complex featuring a multiuse field, NCAA-regulation track and seating for 1,400 spectators.
Under Armour unveiled plans Monday for its new global headquarters in Port Covington in Baltimore. Re-imagined for a post-COVID environment, this new location will consolidate the company’s global corporate functions into one location. Project plans include a new five-story office building, shown in the foreground, renovations to two buildings already on site and an athletic complex featuring a multiuse field, NCAA-regulation track and seating for 1,400 spectators. (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson)

In the final phase, the new 280,000-square foot office building will be constructed along with the retail store, which should be completed by 2024. The company’s lease for a building at Tide Point ends in 2024, and company-owned buildings there will be sold.

Before Monday’s announcement, Under Armour’s plans to relocate its headquarters to Port Covington from Locust Point had been on hold since 2017.

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The original headquarters plan, designed in 2016 when the company was experiencing explosive growth, envisioned a sprawling waterfront campus with three skyscrapers for thousands of employees and a small stadium at the heart of the new Port Covington community.

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In 2017, company officials said the brand still planned to expand because it had outgrown Locust Point. At the time, the company said expansion would be tied to the pace of the company’s growth rather than a specific timeline.

Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this article.

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