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Pandora looks to leave its downtown Baltimore North American headquarters

Danish jeweler Pandora is considering moving from a high-profile headquarters tower bearing its name in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in the wake of office shutdowns during the pandemic.

Company officials are exploring a potential building relocation from 250 W. Pratt St. downtown, where Pandora moved its North American base and its then 250 employees from Columbia in 2015, a manager for the North American division said Friday.

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“This is the right moment for us to re-imagine our U.S. office space and culture, as well as consider new ways of working,” said Detria Courtalis, interim general manager for Pandora North America, in a statement.

Such a move would be the latest blow for downtown’s traditional commercial district, which has seen a flight of businesses from its older office buildings to the newly built Harbor East and Harbor Point developments less than a mile away. Both T. Rowe Price Group and Bank of America recently announced such plans.

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And, even as more people have been inoculated for COVID-19 and businesses are beginning to bring people back from months of remote work, some employers are rethinking work models for the longer term.

“Pandora [would be] a major loss,” said Terri Harrington, a senior vice president with MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services in downtown Baltimore. “When they came to downtown Baltimore they were touted as the first new, larger tenant to come from another market in a long time.”

The space Pandora has on the market for lease, along with expected moves from neighboring large downtown employers, will require “a major backfill of vacancies,” Harrington said.

“That being said, Pratt Street has a history of being able to lease back up over time.”

Pandora’s Courtalis did not offer additional details about possible plans for the retailer’s workplace strategy or headquarters, where a spokeswoman said employees began returning from remote work to the building just last week.

But the company is seeking someone to sublease its five floors of office space, nearly 90,000 square feet, where it has a lease through January 2025, according to a listing on CoStar, a real estate information network. The sublease was first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.

Floors 15 through 19 of the building offer move-in ready accommodations, with multiple meeting rooms, lounge areas, a private cafe, a private balcony, city and water views and furniture, if desired, according to a leasing brochure from commercial real estate company JLL.

The building, which Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust bought for $64 million in 2015, also offers tenants a Starbucks in the lobby, a fitness center and on-site parking.

Pandora, known for its retail stores selling customizable sterling bracelets and charms, moved to the Inner Harbor in 2015 from Columbia, where it had been located since the brand arrived in the United States in 2003. The move to a tower bearing its name came at a time when sales were growing rapidly and Pandora aimed to expand its brand and U.S. presence.

At the time, then-president Scott Burger said he liked the Inner Harbor location because it allowed “more of a branded presence ... [with] the name on the building,” he said. “I love what’s happening in Baltimore, from Harbor East pushing up through the Inner Harbor. I think we could add to that dynamic [and be] a significant consumer brand to really anchor Baltimore for years to come.”

Another move by Pandora would continue a wave of corporate relocations out of the central business district.

T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based global investment group founded in the city in 1937, said in December it plans to move its headquarters out of its Inner Harbor high-rise on East Pratt Street by 2024. T. Rowe will move east to Harbor Point, to a pair of new “green” office buildings, the company said.

In March, Bank of America said it plans to move its Baltimore offices from downtown to the Legg Mason Tower in Harbor East. The bank signed a lease for the 10th and 11th floors of the 24-story skyscraper at 100 International Drive, Harbor East Management Group said.

And in May, the owner of the Wills Wharf office building in Harbor Point, Armada Hoffler Properties, announced that Transamerica had agreed to lease the building’s 35,000-square-foot 8th floor. The arm of Dutch insurer Aegon occupies the top nine floors of the Transamerica Tower at 100 Light Street.

A Transamerica spokeswoman could not be reached Friday for details about the insurer’s plans for its workforce, but the Baltimore Business Journal reported in February that the company told its headquarters employees, all of whom had been working virtually during the pandemic, to pack up their desks in its iconic Pratt Street tower.

Downtown Baltimore’s office occupancy and employment plummeted in 2020 as the coronavirus spread and businesses shut down or operated remotely. Office vacancies jumped to 23.3%, up from 17.75% in 2019, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore said in its State of Downtown Baltimore Report in April.

And total employment downtown fell to 117,970 from 124,785 in 2019, reflecting the temporary loss of service-sector jobs in hotels, restaurants and construction,

Coming out of the economic crisis, business leaders, residents and officials have an opportunity to work together to create a new vision for downtown, said Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership, when the report was released. Stokes could not be reached for comment Friday.

Like Pandora, several downtown businesses have put their office space on the market for sublet, Harrington said. It’s possible that some of the larger vacancies could be filled by the planned relocation of state agencies from the aging State Center, she said.

While companies have left or plan to leave the Inner Harbor area, “the good news is they have stayed in Baltimore,” Harrington said. “All hands are on deck to make sure the [central business district] stays front and center in terms of generating new activity.”

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