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The year some big things began happening in Baltimore business

What happened in Baltimore business in 2015? A lot.

This year brought some much-anticipated action to the Baltimore business world.

After more than a year of speculation over who was buying all that land in Port Covington, it emerged that it was Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. After years of efforts to increase international air traffic to and from Baltimore, several carriers added new routes. And talk of broadening the region's technology industry beyond government services came to fruition as several companies drew big investments to expand in cybersecurity amid some major data security breaches.

Here's a look at some of Baltimore's biggest stories in business in 2015.

Port Covington plans

Even as he continued to accumulate nearly 200 acres in South Baltimore's Port Covington and Westport, Plank unveiled his vision for a massive mixed-use redevelopment that would include a headquarters campus for the athletic apparel brand.

Plank spent more than $100 million over the past several years assembling numerous parcels (including The Baltimore Sun's printing facility, which the newspaper now leases). He told The Sun in early March that Under Armour could be "a big engine to light up that side of the city."

And signs of new development are showing. City Garage, a former bus depot Plank Industries redeveloped into a workspace for manufacturing companies, opened in October, hosted several business events and announced its first tenants, including an experimental manufacturing unit of Under Armour. Also in October, Sagamore Spirit, a rye whiskey line Plank is launching in 2016, broke ground on a four-building distillery complex with predictions that 100,000 people will visit annually.

And early in 2016, more than 400 Under Armour employees are slated to move into a former Sam's Club store that was converted into offices this year.

UA stock split

After surpassing Adidas to become the country's second-biggest sports brand last year, Under Armour continued its rapid growth in 2015. Its sales topped $1 billion for the first time in the third quarter.

But it came with some growing pains. The company announced a controversial stock-split plan in June designed to preserve Plank's control of the company even as he sold shares to diversify his holdings by, for example, investing in real estate. Stockholders sued because the new class of shares created in the split lacked voting power, and the company settled with them in October, offering a $59 million dividend.

Plank sold $57.6 million in Under Armour shares last month under a prearranged sale plan.

Riot recovery

Two days after the rioting in the wake of Freddie Gray's death from a spinal cord injury suffered in police custody saw roughly 400 businesses damaged or looted, Plank announced that Under Armour remains committed to Baltimore.

"The people of Baltimore are resilient, and we are going to be better because of it," he said. "This is not a rebuilding of our city. This is a continuation of building our city."

Since then, nearly all of the businesses have reopened, some with the help of grants and loans from city, state and federal agencies. Business at the city's attractions, including the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, has rebounded. Even the CVS on the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues that went up in flames is being rebuilt.

And city officials and business leaders are working to restore the city's image, both locally and nationally.

Cybersecurity

Maryland has long been home to a robust industry tied to the federal government and defense contractors, but in 2015, makers of security software — and their investors — turned their attention to the private sector.

Local companies including RedOwl Analytics, ZeroFOX and Tenable Network Security raised millions in venture capital — the latter getting an unprecedented $250 million investment.

Meanwhile, companies like KEYW Corp. that have long been focused on selling to the government shifted to capitalize on growing concern among private companies that they need to do more to protect their sensitive data from hackers.

Amazon opens

Online retailer Amazon.com more than tripled expectations of the number of jobs its Broening Highway warehouse would create when it got up and running in 2015. Two years ago, city officials said 1,000 people would eventually work at the 1 million-square-foot distribution center, which they lured with $43 million in incentives.

The facility opened in March while still under construction, and eight months later, it was home to more than 3,500 workers who fill and package orders alongside robots 24 hours a day.

Amazon began offering one-hour delivery in some parts of Baltimore under its Prime Now service this spring and said this month it would also launch food delivery in some Baltimore neighborhoods.

Millennial sale

For the second time in a decade, a homegrown advertising technology company sold itself to AOL. Millennial Media, which since 2006 has been developing software that places ads across smartphone applications and mobile-friendly websites, sold in a $248 million deal announced in September.

It ended one chapter for Canton-based Millennial, whose share price plummeted from nearly $28 each shortly after a 2013 initial public offering to less than $2 before the sale amid stiff competition. But it began a new one for ad tech in Baltimore, joining two companies less than a mile apart in southeast Baltimore.

AOL's local operations in Brewers Hill can be traced to Advertising.com, which the Internet service pioneer bought in 2005 and where many at Millennial once worked, including its founders. Now back together, the teams are helping AOL navigate the convergence of media and technology under new owner Verizon, which bought AOL for $4.4 billion in June.

Property sales

2015 also was a busy year in city real estate after a gradual emergence from the Great Recession.

Several buildings changed hands downtown, including the state's tallest, the Transamerica Tower. Corporate Office Properties Trust paid $121 million for it. The mirrored Pratt Street headquarters of jeweler Pandora and the curved Lombard Street building home to First National Bank also sold.

New apartments opened in old office buildings, including the Equitable Building, and plans for other such conversions were announced, including PMC Property Group projects at 300 St. Paul Place and 103 S. Gay St.

In Southeast Baltimore, cranes dot the waterfront while other developers get to work on blueprints. The future local headquarters of Exelon Corp. sprouted quickly after Beatty Development broke ground at Harbor Point early this year.

Nearby in Fells Point, the Union Wharf apartment complex, opened in 2013, sold for $121.5 million in March. That same month, Plank's real estate company began transforming the decrepit Recreation Pier into a luxury hotel on the harbor.

BWI goes international

International service took off this year at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which launched a $105 million project to rebuild and connect two concourses to allow for more overseas flights.

Southwest Airlines added a second route to Costa Rica, to the city of Liberia, on top of flights to San Jose it began offering in March. The carrier, BWI's largest, also started flying to Los Cabos, Mexico, in June.

WOW Air began offering flights to European destinations including Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin via Reykjavik, Iceland, in May. It added service to Dublin and said in November it will fly to Bristol, England.

International tour operator Vacation Express returned to the airport, adding service to Punta Cana in addition to Grand Bahama Island. And Condor Airlines said in November it would add more flights next summer to Frankfurt, Germany.

Driven in part by a 13.8 percent surge in international fliers to 1 million, the airport saw record traffic of 22.7 million passengers in its 2015 fiscal year ended June 30.

sdance@baltsun.com

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