“WHY I S THAT A BAD THING? I LOVE DISNEYLAND THE PURPOSE OF DISNEYLAND IS TO MAKE PEOPLE SMILE”
In April 2015, when Baltimoreans took to the streets to protest police brutality after the death of Freddie Gray, Plank was troubled by national news coverage that made it seem as if the entire city was erupting in violence, when much of it was unscathed. He understood that as a fast-growing company, Under Armour would undoubtedly play a role in shaping the city’s future. But he was also becoming increasingly aware that as an individual with a billion-dollar net worth, he too could have a significant impact. “We don’t have a lot of people doing stuff here [in Baltimore],” Plank says. “I can use the heat and momentum [of Under Armour] and, frankly, my balance sheet to get things started and keep things moving. Someone’s got to be the first stone in the stone soup. Then someone else will bring the carrots and the poultry. But we’re that first stone.”
In January, Sagamore announced its plans for Port Covington, which include a 4 millionsquare-foot headquarters for Under Armour and much, much more. Over the next 20 years, Sagamore intends to essentially build a neighborhood from scratch. Comprising almost 50 city blocks, Port Covington will be larger than Baltimore’s best-known tourist attraction, the Inner Harbor, and one of the biggest urban renewal projects under way in the U.S. If all goes according to plan, Port Covington
will be home to 7,500 housing units, a hotel, shopping, two lightrail stops, and a stable for the city’s police horses.
“There aren’t many CEOs who would take their personal capital and deploy it like this,” says Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries, the privately held company that serves as Plank’s personal investment arm. “The one example we look at a lot is Dan Gilbert,” the chairman of Quicken Loans, who has spent more than $1.5 billion buying up downtown property in Detroit since 2010. “He’s someone else who looked at his big company and said, This thing is an engine. If I invest around it and pull together a critical mass, I can really make a significant difference.”
In cities struggling with postindustrial disinvestment and high rates of unemployment and poverty, such investors are often treated as saviors. “I would like to also extend a sense of deep appreciation and true excitement on the part of the city for what we see presented here,” Baltimore’s city planning director, Tom Stosur, said after Sagamore revealed the Port Covington master plan.
Plank’s ideas for Port Covington have also faced criticism that cuts against the savior narrative, particularly after Sagamore announced this spring that the arrangement would seek $1.1 billion in support from local, state, and federal governments, including $535 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, from the city of Baltimore. The TIF money would go toward infrastructure improvements and come from municipal bonds issued by the city to be repaid by new property taxes eventually generated by the project. MuniCap, a Maryland consulting firm that analyzed the project, estimates it won’t create enough tax revenue to repay the TIF until 2038. More worrying, perhaps, is that the
A new Under Armour injection molding technique (below left); lasts used to form-fit footwear