Bait and switch the ploy of offering a person something desirable to gain favor (such as political support) then thwarting expectations with something less desirable (Merriam Webster)
There is no ploy, but it is easy to get confused in the $5.5 billion story of Port Covington which is told in chapters and sub-chapters that shift with the times. The multitude of players alone can make one's head spin: There is Kevin Plank, the former Under Armour CEO, who was first front and center and acts now as a background figure. He has his hands in a conglomeration of businesses that are called Plank Industries, Under Armour, Sagamore (now Weller Development) and then there is Goldman Sachs, a partner and funding source. Then there are potentially significant tax increment financing benefits, a community benefits agreement for seven communities dubbed SB7.
The book of modern day Port Covington doesn't only fall into "chapters" but also into parts: The "World Headquarters" of Under Armour, and then the rest of Port Covington. Both parts and their chapters have changed a lot since the book went first on sale and was eventually "bought" by Mayor and City Council in 2016 for as much as $660 million, a price tag that would only come due if the new developments are fully built and all tranches of the TIF would have been issued. In Baltimore not all bought the story, to this day there are friends and foes of the big Port Covington vision. Are foes who say: I told you so correct? Was the whole thing simply a mirage, distracting the City from more important tasks?
|Baltimore Magazine title story Dec. 2017 showing the full Port Covington|
rendering prepared by Sagamore
|Current Tide Point UA Headquarters|
But it came as it had to come, as anybody who pays attention to biblical or fairy tale morals knows: pride cometh before the fall. The UA star did not rise indefinitely. After the earlier growth seemed to be inflated, UA got into really turbulent waters from which it is only now slowly recovering. Today the big project has slipped out of focus.
“With Maryland’s highly talented workforce, cutting-edge research institutions, and more and more innovative companies locating here each year, no state is better equipped or better positioned to be the cyber and innovation capital of our nation. This new development at Port Covington will further spur development of cyber companies, bringing much-needed jobs, capital investment, and business opportunities to Baltimore City and our state.” (Governor Hogan in October 2018)
|Chapter 1 plan including the SUN plant (1B in red)|
|The new UA Headquarters after a drastic diet|
For a while with UA shrinking its workforce it seemed very much a question whether there would ever be a new UA "World Headquarters" in Port Covington. The former big box there had even been turned into a vaccination center for a while and no UA employees were spotted there. But last week seemingly good news emerged: The “world headquarters” are not dead! But a closer look indicated that jubilation would be premature. What was shown as the consolidated new place for UA was smaller than Tide Point and by some estimations had shrunk by 40%. That's a lot of dieting! The company shrouds this conversion from giant to dwarf in artful words stating that they "reimagined [the headquarters] for a post COVID environment." The goal on the 50 acre potion of port Covington designated for Under Armour is still to " to “consolidate the company’s global corporate and Americas regional functions into one location, greatly enhancing operational efficiencies and innovation capabilities.”
Chapter 1 development area
This barrage of verbal smokescreens was accompanied by renderings that one could describe as shocking, especially in comparison to the renderings that had been circulated just a few years ago. The new pictures looked more like Canton Crossing than the Dubai-style UA-Tomorrowland that originally had been supposed to outdo apparel leader Nike. The once temporary Walmart and Sams Club big boxes were now permanent and the high-rises with the proud UA logo on them had shrunk to a simple 300,00 sf office building that with its five stories could probably be built out of wood sticks on a concrete podium. And yes, lots of surface parking, nothing about parking under the I-95 viaduct, a light rail extension from the Hamburg Street Station, autonomous shuttles or other progressive mobility options.There is a lot to unpack. Kevin Plank who owns all the land of Port Covington, Under Armour which owns the 50 acres designated for its headquarters, Weller Development responsible for all the rest, financed by Goldman Sachs. The financial partner, in full understanding that a huge development like Port Covington would need an engine, conditioned its deal with Weller Development on Under Armour building its headquarters in Port Covington.
|The originally imagined UA World Headquarters|
The Brew stressed this linkage between Goldman and the headquarters in a recent article and concluded somewhat hyperbolically:
"the clause effectively says that Plank could lose everything if UA fails to build its headquarters on the peninsula. It’s a penalty, however, that Plank could escape if UA opted to build on the peninsula. He needed something – anything – to show his financiers that his shaky office-apartment project, dubbed “Chapter 1,” has a future".Hard to say if the recent announcement about Under Armour's diminished headquarters plans is, indeed, simply a move to keep Goldman Sachs on board, or whether UA is serious about relocating the UA operations to Port Covington. There is also no way of knowing how successful "Chapter 1B will be without any major tenants having committed at this point (at least nothing is known publicly about firm tenants). There is no need for the Schadenfreude of those who never liked the UA vision in the first place. Baltimore can use a successful Under Armour and a redeveloped Port Covington more than ever. Just think of the Plank Industries owned Baltimore water taxi operation, City Garage, Nick's Fishhouse, the distillery, the posh Pendry hotel in Fells Point and all the sprinkles of the original Plank wealth that created success stories in Baltimore, not last the SB7 agreement into which Cherry Hill, Westport, Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and others put a lot of hope. Weller Development claims to have painstakingly fulfilled its obligations to date and having paid out $9 million already. Further fulfillment will depend on real development proceeds. Those are far from certain, the way it looks today. Still, the term "bait and switch" doesn't apply as long as there is no ill intent, no matter how critical many have been of Plank's intentions all along.
|Port Covington as a coal transfer station and train yard|
"Port Covington is a long-term, bold vision for helping to build a better Baltimore. The TIF bond sale was met with overwhelming demand, and the overall deal successfully closed last week, which is significant proof of institutional investors’ belief in the future success of the project. We are thrilled about this important milestone, and what it means in validating our vision." (Kevin Plank quoted in the BBJ on Jan 5, 2021)
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
|Original vision for the UA campus|
|Chapter 1 rendering. (1B is a smaller part of this)|
Overall Port Covington illustrative plan from 2016