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Construction suspended on Port Covington project for worker safety amid pandemic

Construction has been suspended on Port Covington, a massive, mixed-use project underway in South Baltimore, to protect worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the health and safety of all who work on the Port Covington development as our top priority, we have chosen to temporarily suspend construction operations in Port Covington,” developer Marc Weller said Wednesday in an email.

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The work there by Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. was stopped even as other construction projects continue, including the demolition of part of Lexington Market and a 32-bed addition to the 17th floor of Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore being done by Whiting-Turner.

Weller, whose Weller Development is overseeing the project partly owned by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, did not have a timeline for resuming work. But Weller said the firm will work with community members and government officials “as we navigate this together.”

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Work had begun late last year on the $500 million first phase of building on the once-industrial East Cromwell Street site along the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch. Plans in the first phase include 1.1 million square feet of offices, apartments, shops and parks, and construction had begun to prepare for the first five buildings.

Hoping to prevent illness on site, the developer began suspending construction the week of April 3. No workers have tested positive for COVID-19 as far as developers know, a Weller spokesman said.

City officials in 2016 approved a controversial tax increment financing deal, Baltimore’s largest ever, in which the city will float $660 million in bonds to build infrastructure and the developer will repay the bonds through future taxes. In 2017, New York investment bank Goldman Sachs invested $233 million and became a partner.

After some delays, the first round of bonds had been scheduled to be sold in February.

The city has not issued bonds but expects to proceed once financial markets stabilize, said City Councilman Eric T. Costello, whose district includes Port Covington.

“The Port Covington development is still moving forward," though paused by developers “out of an abundance of caution related to public health concerns associated with COVID-19,” Costello said in an email.

The Baltimore City Council approved a community benefits district Monday for Port Covington, allowing property owners, residents and others to pay for items such as street cleaning and increased police protection through a special tax in the district.

Plank, who became Under Armour’s executive chairman and brand chief in January after stepping down as CEO, initially launched the project. Plank’s Sagamore Development company began assembling land at least five years ago for a mini-city anchored by a new corporate campus for Under Armour. The sports apparel brand has its headquarters in Locust Point but has offices and a small manufacturing facility in Port Covington.

The neighborhood also is home to Plank’s Sagamore Spirit whiskey distillery and tavern and The Baltimore Sun, which has a long-term lease with the developer for its newsroom and printing plant.

Plans for Under Armour’s new headquarters had been put on hold as the brand worked through a turnaround plan to boost slumping sales in the United States.

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