BALTIMORE — Baltimore officials announced a deal Thursday with a firm owned by Under Armour’s CEO to develop a swath of south Baltimore industrial waterfront that includes a $100 million benefits package and promises of affordable housing and local hires.
Sagamore Development, Kevin Plank’s private real estate firm, plans a $5.5 billion development in Port Covington with offices, homes, restaurants, green space and a new campus for the sportswear company. The firm is seeking roughly $660 million in tax incentives.
Sagamore unveiled the plans for the massive development in January, just eight months after looting and rioting broke out across the city in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a police transport wagon.
The $100 million package includes requirements that a certain percentage of workers on the project be city residents and that the developers provide low-income housing equal to 20 percent of the housing at Port Covington, with 60 percent of that housing on-site. It includes $39 million in benefits for six surrounding communities, $55 million in citywide benefits such as education and workforce development programs and $6.5 million in costs for prevailing wages. The City Council is expected to vote on the plan Monday.
The “historic” agreement positions the city and its workforce to benefit from opportunities that “stretch across a generation,” with jobs, workforce development and education programs, scholarships and improvements to recreation facilities, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement.
“Port Covington will serve as a true model for economic development throughout our region and nation,” Young said.
The developers have aimed to “provide the greatest possible benefit to the city and its residents,” Plank Industries CEO Tom Geddes said in a statement.
“It is why we are doing this in Baltimore in the first place; we are committing to Baltimore, doubling-down on Baltimore,” he said.
Residents, activists and community groups criticized an earlier plan that didn’t promise affordable housing or jobs for locals. Gray’s death prompted thousands to take to the streets in protest, speaking out not only against police brutality, but deep systemic problems that have plagued Baltimore for decades: a lack of affordable housing, recreation centers and educational opportunities for children; segregation, joblessness, homelessness, and hopelessness.
No one was killed during the rioting, but the city suffered millions of dollars in property damage, leaving business owners and elected officials concerned about the image of a city already marred by consistent bloodshed, an active drug trade and more than 17,000 vacant homes across the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, a visual manifestation of the institutional neglect that inspired the unrest.
Critics of the Port Covington project have been numerous, and their concerns vary from the type of construction crews the firm should hire to whether such a sweeping plan includes enough public incentives to justify the tax benefits offered. Chief among the complaints: that a private developer seeking to take advantage of a city struggling to heal from last year’s trauma is proposing a deal that would benefit only the affluent.
At a recent public hearing, John Barber, a representative of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, said he supported the development plan, but not without a community benefits agreement that includes “access to opportunities that built the middle class generations ago.”
“We need concrete enforceable changes,” he said. “That includes jobs with sustainable wages and benefits, real affordable housing, accessible transportation and ample funding for our schools. We cannot afford another massive development project that benefits wealthy developers while leaving the rest of us to die.”
Meanwhile, Plank has been outspoken about his decision to root Under Armour, a multibillion-dollar global brand whose sponsors include Olympic record-breaker and Baltimore native Michael Phelps. In an open letter recently published as a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun, Plank wove the future construction of Port Covington into the narrative of the city’s physical history.
“The history of Baltimore includes many moments that we can all see in retrospect as forks in the road in economic development and in civic life,” Plank wrote. “And I hope that decades from now, our children and their children will look back on this moment and know that we saw one of those great forks in the road, and chose the best course.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of the company is Under Armour, not UnderArmour.