Kevin Plank thinks big.
This story first appeared in the December 5, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The founder and chief executive officer of Under Armour set up shop in his grandmother’s garage to create an alternative to the cotton T-shirt for athletes. Twenty years later, that project has spawned a nearly $5 billion global sporting goods business. And now, Plank is turning that same laser focus to transforming the waterfront of his adopted hometown of Baltimore.
Through his private investment company, Plank Industries, and its Sagamore Development Co. arm, the executive is spearheading one of the largest urban renewal projects in America. Port Covington, an aging, underutilized industrial area in South Baltimore that covers more than three miles and 260 acres of waterfront, is being revitalized into a neighborhood that will include the headquarters for Under Armour, as well as housing, hotels, manufacturing facilities, retail and restaurants. The total investment in the project is roughly $5.5 billion.
Tom Geddes, chief executive officer of Plank Industries, said the company is separate from Under Armour and includes the executive’s Sagamore Spirit distillery business; the City Garage innovation center; Sagamore Racing, his thoroughbred horse business, and his philanthropic ventures.
The largest of these businesses, Geddes said, is the Port Covington project.
Marc Weller, president of Sagamore Development Co., said the original plan was to find a new home for Under Armour, which has outgrown its headquarters at Tide Point. “Publicly traded companies are not in the business of real estate development,” he said, so it fell to Sagamore to come up with a solution.
Over four years, Sagamore quietly acquired and rezoned several parcels of land at Port Covington before making its plans known and applying for $660 million in public financing to build the infrastructure needed for the development, which is projected to create 26,500 permanent jobs and have a $4.3 billion annual economic impact once complete.
The city of Baltimore approved the package in September.
While the project is not expected to be finished for 20 years, Port Covington is already starting to take shape.
The Lighthouse, Under Armour’s manufacturing and design center, opened in June at the City Garage site. Geddes said the other two-thirds of the space is devoted to The Foundry, a “makerspace” where entrepreneurs or hobbyists can create products, as well as Main Street, which offers incubator-style workspaces for small businesses.
In addition, Sagamore Spirit’s new complex is nearly complete. The distillery is slated to open in January and a restaurant from James Beard-award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini should be ready by the spring.
And although the complete build-out is more than two decades away, “it’s being phased in a way that won’t feel like you’re in a large vacant area,” Geddes said.
“This is a true mixed-use project,” Weller explained. “There will be 18 million square feet in total, four million of which will be for Under Armour, which means 14 million square feet of development.”
The plan is to break ground on Under Armour’s new headquarters in 2017, Weller said, although a converted Sam’s Club — Building 37, named for Kevin Plank’s University of Maryland football jersey number — is already operating on the site.
Although Under Armour’s new campus will serve as the base, the remainder of the plan will “serve as a recipe for a really unique project,” he said.
Because it is located close to I-95, an estimated 42 million vehicles drive by every year, Weller said. As a result, “we have the opportunity to activate the site 52 weekends a year for special events.” He envisions stages, music festivals, civic events and other leisure activities on the site, which will include more than 40 acres of parks.
“This is an incredible location, between Washington and Philadelphia, on the water,” Weller said. “It offers a lot and frankly, we’re surprised it hasn’t been developed before.”
But Plank is not stopping with Port Covington. Sagamore is also putting the finishing touches on the Pendry, a boutique hotel on Recreation Pier in the Fell’s Point neighborhood, across the water from Under Armour’s existing headquarters. The 128-room hotel is built on a pier jutting out into the water, Geddes said, and will open in March.
Additionally, this summer, Sagamore picked up Harbor Boating Inc., the company that operates the water taxi in Baltimore, for an undisclosed price. Sagamore will roll out a new fleet of boats and add stops to serve Fell’s Point as well as Port Covington — allowing residents and tourists easy access to all of the company’s projects.
So what drives Plank’s undying devotion to Baltimore? Although he was born in Kensington, Md., he attended the University of Maryland, and when he created Under Armour, he chose Baltimore as the place to put down roots.
“It was a good cultural fit and the city has the same underdog status as Under Armour,” Geddes said. “Baltimore was good to him and he adopted it as his hometown.”
With a population of 600,000, it’s nowhere near the size of New York or Philadelphia, he said, so it allows Plank to “really feel he can make a difference. And his investments can really move the needle.”