Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Protest at "Inside the mind of Sagamore"

There was a sold out event, a torrential downpour, ra-ra promotional video with a Ronald Reagan style voice-over, a protest group bursting on the stage with a megaphone, rye whiskey to drink and watch being bottled, skateboards, NC routers and an African American pastor giving his blessings for everything (at least figuratively). All that was eventually crowned by a double rainbow decorating the sky over Hanover Bridge.
Marc Weller speaking about the Under Armour growth rates
1000 Friends of Maryland event

This report isn't in any way a neutral report that follows journalistic standards.  I am a founding member of the 1000 Friends of Maryland, the organization which hosted the event and as a board member I helped a bit in getting it off the ground.

The venue, in case that isn't yet clear, was City Garage, the first completed project of what Sagamore and Under Armour plan for Port Covington. No, the event wasn't, what some people mistakenly thought, the 1000 Friends of Maryland doing a fundraiser for Under Armour; which is a pretty funny idea, considering growth and wealth of the sport apparel company and the poverty of the non-profit group that like pretty much all non-profits struggles for the small pool of available grants.  The event was fundraiser for the 1000 Friends who promote smart growth and prudent development, especially in existing towns and cities.  Port Covington was the subject matter and the event was not supposed to be an endorsement but an opportunity of obtaining information on location, straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, which is supposed to be a joke since Sagamore is named after Kevin Plank's horse. 1000 Friends has held many events at redeveloped sites, Tide Point one of them when it was not yet completed and in the hands of Struever Brothers, Montgomery Ward was a venue as well, and so was Disney's Discovery Channel project in Silver Spring; all highlighting infill, adaptive re-use and smart growth.

City Garage hosting a fundraiser for the 1000 friends of MD

Kevin Plank, Baltimore's entrepreneurial wunderkind with a "the sky is the limit attitude" quite rare in Baltimore, is a Republican and was probably responsible for the Ronald Reagan voice-over of the introductory video, but that is just speculation.

Damian Costa jumped on stage after 1000 Friends Executive Director Dru Schmidt Perkins had given thanks to the sponsors and had explained what the growth management group does, safely using distant Charles County as a current example of the groups's engagement in more reasonable growth patterns. I say "jumped" because Costa personifies energy and boundless optimism, quite clearly drinking the Kool Aid that is not only mandatory in the UA empire, but is also infectious.
whiskey bottling operation

As part of the pumped-up attitude big words come quick and effortlessly over the lips of Costa, the venture capital adviser for Plank:
City Garage is the first thing we have done and it isn't done [like this] in any part of the world.
[looking at options for City Garage]:Sounds like an incubator and we have already 40 in Maryland.[I asked myself] what if we can keep some of the companies here?  So maybe we can do something better. Need to do more than small spaces for companies to hang out. [Need to offer a pathway] for the the 20 year old football player with a vision.... 
{We] found it in the Foundery. Stands as a shining example, concept #1: Community and the culture of like minded companies. Come here and put down roots, not like incubator come and go.
And then there is Marc Weller, the President of Sagamore Development. He talked, of course, about Under Armour Lighthouse, the manufacturing space that had opened earlier the same day with great fanfare as a model of manufacturing in the US. He had just worked himself into a crescendo with statements like
[Fabrics] are made with]technology developed 150 years ago. Isn't there a better way?..The Lighthouse is our weapon...our absolute pinnacle... located right next to our designers. Local for local. Pioneering the future.... byproducts the likes the consumer has never seen before....Innovate on every front.
HON protester with bullhorn 
when protesters of the Housing Our Neighbors group (HON) who had staged their demands for 20% affordable housing at 30% AMI at the entrance of City Garage, somehow had found their way into the venue and burst on stage with a bullhorn that was loud enough to drown out Weller's talk.  Much of what the protesters yelled wasn't understandable, but one thing was:
"Housing is a right for all". 
Dru Schmidt Perkins smoothly thanked the housing advocates for their passion and then Weller finished without missing a beat.
"Create an urban park like nothing you have ever seen".
Quoting Kevin Plank: "We are from this city of this city".
There was another video intoning that 
Protesters at the gate
[we in Baltimore] are  writing our own story and Port Civington is the next chapter...We will build it together... Create a world class mixed use destination that innovates"
Sagamore's Scott Gassen explaining the core of the big development project, Under Armour's global headquarters with 4 million square feet of development. With his quiet, calm demeanor he was a welcome relief from the previous high voltage delivery. He explained how the old Sams Club big box, a misplaced and failed attempt of bringing retail options to Baltimore at the shore of the Middle Branch, was now "Apollo" and already housed 300 Under Armour employees. He spoke about the attempts of cutting edge green technology, including considerations of creating a micro-grid, the goal of providing 15% of the needed energy with solar power, reducing water consumption by 70% and creating a "high performance lake" which would provide some type of heat transfer and help the Middle Branch to recover. He even reported that wind-power was studied but not deemed feasible, a simple statement that somehow brought everything into the normal human perspective where not everything works or takes off like a rocket.

Gossen explains the corporate headquarters

Finally it was the Reverend Alvin Hathaway's turn to speak, senior pastor of the at Union Baptist Church and an adviser to Sagamore. He spoke about his legacy of fighting for social justice, noting projects "from the Superblock to Harbor East to now Sagamore" and asked numerous questions: 
how do we grow this city?...how to take pain and make it a programmatic initiative". How do you craft an effective community benefits agreement?.. This amazing development will propel this city to the next level. We need affordable housing in this development. How can people have an asset in growing  community. Section 3 of the public housing act this development group listens. Understand the promise. This project must lift the spirits of people that haven't been born yet. There will be a whole lot of spin off jobs that will come from this project. I feel the pain of people whose voice is sometimes not heard.  
Later, in the question and answer period (questions had to be submitted in writing) Weller responded to the affordable housing question that Sagamore has with the 10% affordable commitment (of 80% AMI income) offered a record number of affordable units but "that there is much more that we can do".

No matter that some of the promo material sounded over the top, the sheer size of the undertaking, the scale of the ambition, the level of excellence aspired to,  is impressive even to someone who may have become cynical and worn from decades of promises made and not fulfilled. 
Panel discussion: Written questions from the audience

In City Garage and in the Apollo buildings UA has proven already, that they can create things in very short order in a City where most everything takes years of agonizing debate. City Garage has people filling rye whiskey in bottles, folks building skateboards and in the Foundery a huge place full with high end NC routers, foundry hammers and the like that has already enrolled hundreds in classes, only a few weeks after being completed. It is easy to imagine how a place like this is good for the much discussed workforce development and how it could become a pipeline for training people tat could help build those 14 million square-feet of stuff that would represent Port Covington in full build-out. Discussions with the West Baltimore Innovation Village are already underway. As pastor Hathaway said,
"Don't give up on believing in the best in our city."
There will be much more debate coming up when the City Council will take up the Masterplan and the issue of the TIFs and there may be lots of opportunity to answer many of the questions that are not answered yet. As a litmus test for it all I suggest this: Would any part of Baltimore be better off if Port Covington would remain an abandoned rail-yard? The protesters seemed to think so, but as many do, they described the TIF as City money going to Sagamore, not an accurate description. So far, I haven't found anybody making the case convincingly, that yes, without that Sagamore project we would have a better Park Heights, a better Sandtown or a more prosperous North Avenue.
Foundery's Jason Hardebeck explains his makerspace with
Bob Embry of the Abell Foundation looking on

The higher standard, that the development should provide benefits outside the development area is one that Sagamore is striving for.

And then there is the question of infrastructure projects. There are those, who think that UA just should pay all the infrastructure out of their pocket, even in public spaces and those who think that the proposed infrastructure is overdone. Those need to ask themselves: Would you rather see basic no-frill roads and infrastructure (minimum cost) or the cutting edge practices with public parks, promenades, bikeways, habitat restoration and micro-grids that are currently driving up the cost?
As proposed, the infrastructure is jointly paid for by Sagamore and the City and only with funds that will be generated by this project itself.
Skateboard fabrication and shop



The 1000 friends event provided a good dose of Kool Aid, a lot of figures and images, some critical information, but most of all an on the ground first hand impression of who the Sagamore people are and what their ideas look like. Most of those I talked to at the event found this very valuable.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

all photos: Klaus Philipsen
A rainbow over the Middle Branch

BBJ article about the UA Lighthouse opening
























Update: Press about the 1000 Friends event:

Ed Gunts Baltimore FishbowlPort Covington Jogging Trails May Contain Recycled UA T-shirts


Baltimore Sun
Protesters disrupt Port Covington speakers


Real News
Tired of Tax Breaks, Baltimore Activists Disrupt Developer Fete

Baltimore Brew
Big Dream Dicey Moments