Sewell A. “Skip” Brown III, former chairman of the board of The Belts Corp. who expanded the family-owned company from its traditional warehouse roots into development and real estate services, died May 20 from complications of renal cancer at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The former longtime Phoenix, Baltimore County, resident was 78.
“He brought everything to the business and dedicated his life to Belts Corp. and was well-known and respected in the business community. He was also very involved in Fells Point,” said his brother, George A. Brown of Ruxton, who is the company’s semiretired vice president, secretary and treasurer.
“He started from the ground up and when he became president, he told me my job was to ‘watch the dollars.’ We worked closely with one another and there was never any jealousy, which is unusual because it is a family business, but there never was any.”
“Skip was hardworking, honest and very community-oriented, and was always willing to help the port,” said Norman G. Rukert Jr., CEO of Rukert Terminals Corp. and a close friend of more than 50 years. “He was Baltimore-oriented and didn’t go out of state. He stayed right here and developed his terminal. He grew with the business and adapted and changed it.”
Sewell Allen Brown III, son of Sewell Allen Brown Jr., president of National Sporting Goods Co., and Eleanor Bratt Brown, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and lived in Forest Park before moving with his family to the Hampton neighborhood of Baltimore County.
Mr. Brown, who was known as Skip, was a graduate of Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia, and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Baltimore.
As a young man, Mr. Brown began working for Belts Wharf Warehouses Inc., a family-owned waterfront business that was founded in 1845 in Fells Point. He unloaded steamships that docked there.
“In those days, two of our main commodities were coffee and canned corn beef products from South America, and this was pre-containerization era, and those sacks of coffee weighed 132 pounds and were loaded in the holds of ships and then had to be placed in slings,” his brother said. “And this is when Skip starting working there, when he was in his late teens.”
Mr. Brown was named president of Belts Wharf Warehouses Inc. in 1979. The name was changed in 1992 to The Belts Corp.
It was Mr. Brown who expanded the company’s footprint from a traditional warehouse where goods were unloaded from ships and then temporarily stored before being shipped throughout the country. He established Belts Logistics, Belts Transportation Services, Belts Intermodal and Belts Realty Services, as well as forming real estate ventures.
In 1987, nine buildings that comprised the Belts Wharf Warehouse complex on Fells Street in Fells Point were demolished to make way for a $17 million development that resulted in approximately 150 townhouses and condominiums known as Belt’s Wharf Landing. He also purchased and rehabbed the old National Can complex in the 2000 block of Aliceanna Street, which is now home to Osiris Therapeutics.
As president of Belts Realty Services Inc., a real estate brokerage and property management company, Mr. Brown oversaw the development of large distribution centers in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, as well as the renovated historic Swann’s Wharf in Fells Point, which resulted in retail, restaurants and a marina.
“He was an active participant in the early Fells Point planning efforts and recognized the potential to convert the industrial waterfront but did not abandon the city,” said Alfred W. Barry III, a former city planner, who is now founder and owner of A. B. Associates, a Baltimore business management consulting firm. “I believe his Belt’s Warehouse property off Eastern Avenue was one of the first Foreign Trade Zones in the city.”
Family members said that William Donald Schaefer, mayor and later governor, credited Mr. Brown for bringing FILA USA Inc., the shoe manufacturer, to Curtis Bay, where they erected a 653,000 square foot national distribution center.
In 1995, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appointed Mr. Brown to the Baltimore Development Corp., a position he held for 11 years, also serving under Mayor Martin J. O’Malley. As part of the organization, Mr. Brown played an influential role in the development of Harbor East.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed him as chairman of the Governor’s Port Land Use Task Force, which created a comprehensive strategy for waterfront land in the city and other counties.
In 1997, a report by the task force evaluated nearly 2,000 acres of vacant waterfront and water accessible land and concluded that it was underutilized and could be developed.
He stepped down as company chair in 2021.
His professional memberships were numerous and he had been an active member and former president of the Maryland Warehouseman’s Association.
The Morning Sun
Mr. Brown was a finalist in 1993 in Inc. magazine’s national Entrepreneur of the Year competition and had been named Port Leader of the Year for the Port of Baltimore. He was also a tireless fundraiser for the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Baltimore Harbor Endowment.
He was a 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner. and a member of the Royal order of Jesters for more than 50 years, as well as a member of the National Rifle Association.
Mr. Brown was married in 1991 to the former Christine Porter. The couple later built a stone manor home at Springmeade Farm, which was part of the 1711 patent of Clynmalira in Phoenix, Baltimore County, where they bred and raced more than 40 thoroughbred horses.
Other interests included hunting, fishing, scuba diving, tennis, golf and bocce ball. He also liked to travel, boating, riding his motorcycle, and spending summers at a another home in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
For the last 12 years, Mr. Brown and his wife, a retired attorney, had made their home in Marco Island, Florida, where he was a member of the Hideaway Beach Club and the Island Club. He was also a member of the Baltimore Country Club.
Mr. Brown was a communicant of St. James Episcopal Church in Monkton where a memorial service was held Friday.
In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by a son, Sewell Allen Brown IV, of Hampton, who is now the company’s president; a daughter, Lauren Knott of Lutherville; six grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage to the former Marian Thompson ended in divorce.