Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Port Covington - updates, more than just a new name

 After MAG Partners of New York took the reins from Weller Development in May 22 it had been pretty quiet around the topic of  Port Covington, even though one could see from I-95 that a bunch of buildings continued to receive the finishing touches and new cranes sprouted where Under Armour was supposed to have their "global headquarters". All that was known was that Weller had not found a single tenant for the 1.1 million square feet that had been constructed as part of "Chapter One".

A new day at Port Covington? (Photo Philipsen)

In recent days Port Covington jumped into the local headlines again for MAG had decided to "rebrand" the development and call it "Baltimore Peninsula". The move immediately drew derisive comments on line declaring the new name as lame. Several pointed out that the name was already in use for the entire South Baltimore peninsula.

A breakfast event organized by the BBJ featured MAG CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin of New York (born in Queens, living in Brooklyn and toughened by those locals, in her own words) and was held on location was a great opportunity for checking out what was going on. 

Ok, the name change: "We want to leverage the brand of Baltimore through equitable placemaking", Gilmartin said, not making the new moniker much clearer. One has to assume that the new folks in charge just wanted to create a visible mark on their own. More meaningful were a few facts that are generally encouraging.

BBJ panelists. From left: Colin Tarbert (BDC), Jamie McDonald,
Upsurge;  Brad Rogers SBG, Tony Gross (JLL) (Photo: Philipsen

  • Folks in the room who work with MAG confirmed that the new partners are easy to work with and that there is significant consistency on the staff level between Weller and MAG, in spite of several high profile departures.
  • Of the 1.1 million square feet some 250,000 square feet of office space have found tenants by now says Tony Gross who is in charge of leasing. Upon my inquiry he clarified that at the end of the year, all those deals should be final.
  • The project has strong $100 million community benefits agreement and MGA reportedly continues with payouts to the SB7 communities. 
  • CEO Gilmartin can conjugate equity and inclusion even more fluently than Weller or Plank. At the event she stated that  "2022 is a moment where even those who want to make profit realize that there is a responsibility for equity and inclusion”. Nothing wrong with that insight, if it holds. She also emphasizes sustainability and resilience, pointing to the flat land so close to tidal waters. Again, good.
    MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO MAG Partners 
    (Photo: Philipsen)

  • 20% of the housing in Chapter One is supposed to be affordable, a standard she promises also for the future "if market rate housing holds, which we need to fund the affordable housing".
  • Gilmartin stresses access to the site from South Baltimore which leads to a now even stronger design feature on the masterplan, the green diagonal that had been there before but didn't reach as far north. A one that makes the plan better.
  • Another new emphasis is on flexibility. With the office market pretty dead, it is no surprise that a lot of the development may be residential in the future. "We have no choice", Gilmartin says, "with 14 million square feet of development we can't exclude any industry". The extravagant towers of the old plan are gone from the rendering.
  • The masterplan's high quality roadway designs and sidewalks are taking shape in Chapter One. As part of the first tranche of tax increment financing (TIF) these standards are cast in stone and can't be skimped on. The infrastructure of Port Covington transitions seamlessly into the big Middle Branch plan and the $160 million "in the pipeline outside of this project" as Brad Rogers, Executive Director of South Baltimore Gateway Partnership noted. This is money flowing from the Casino proceeds and funding improvements like the new Cherry Hill rec center. Rogers repeated several times that with an inclusive approach not all planning has to be a zero sum game in which "winner takes all".
    All leased by the end of this year: Chapter One offices
    (Photo: Philipsen)

In a time when Baltimore's public attention stumbles from one "game changing" promise to the next, from HarborPoint to Perkins Homes/Oldtown, from Penn Station to Madison Park North and from Druid Lake to Pimlico not to mention HarborPlace, the east and west bio-parks as the old standbys, and, indeed, the Middle Branch plans, it is good to see that Port Covington is still on track to convert a forlorn industrial wasteland into an attractive waterfront community, no matter under what name. Good to see also that out-of-towners such as MAG and Goldman Sachs still see a future in this City where so many locals have given up hope.  

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
the original article was updated for spelling errors and language

A tighter overall plan with a stronger diagonal green axis as it was displayed by MAG today
A MAG rendering showing the 3 D montage of how the full development could look one day

By comparison, the initial rendering presented by Under Armour 

and the inital full masterplan with a much more involved UA Headquarters

From what one can see to date, sidewalks, plazas and plantings will be high quality
(Photo: Philipsen)
Chapter One: "Proof of concept". Lots of stuff to fill. 
(Photo: Philipsen)

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