Walmart Closes Ending the Final Chapter of the Port Covington Shopping Center

| January 18, 2016 | 5 Comments

IMG_1305 (1)As first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal, the Walmart at Port Covington closed on Sunday, a move seen by many as inevitable and one which ended the failed South Baltimore project that was the Port Covington Shopping Center. The 59-acre property was purchased by Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development in 2014 for $35 million and will become a 3 million sq. ft. campus and world headquarters for Under Armour as a part a massive development that includes 161 acres of Port Covington land acquisitions.

The closing came in conjunction with an announcement from Walmart that it would be closing 269 stores worldwide. While visiting the store on Sunday, an employee informed SouthBMore.com that employees would have the opportunity to transfer to other stores in Maryland. Sagamore released the following statement regarding the news:

“We understand that the Port Covington Walmart store is closing as part of Walmart’s overall business plan to close 269 stores globally, including 154 stores here in the United States. We are proud to be a part of Port Covington’s next chapter and look forward to working with the surrounding communities on the transformational redevelopment of the entire Port Covington peninsula, which will create significant economic opportunities and have a fundamental, far-reaching positive impact on the City and its future.”

Sagamore recently revealed a master plan for the 266 acres spanning Port Covington which will include a 50-acre campus for Under Armour; 76 acres of mixed-use real estate development; 114 acres of public realm between parks, infrastructure, and open space; and, an existing 26-acre NGK-Locke, Inc. facility which Sagamore does not own. That plan is currently moving its way through the Baltimore City Planning Department.

It is the failure of the Port Covington Shopping Center that created the opportunity for Sagamore and Under Armour to develop one of the largest real estate developments in modern Baltimore history and one of the largest ongoing urban developments in the country.

Let’s take a look at how we got here:

In 2000, the Baltimore Development Corporation sold the 45 acre plot of land to Starwood Certuzzi of Connecticut, which planned a $50 million box store development.  The development was approved and construction began.

In 2012, a manager in the planning and building of the Port Covington Shopping Center provided SouthBMore.com with his take on why things fell apart: “The shopping center was really going to be something great. It was going to include a Home Depot, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Staples, Ruby Tuesdays, several restaurants and much more. They were also hoping to use a waterfront section for  a casino and possibly cruise ships.”

So what went wrong? “The developers and Walmart Stores Inc. were hoping to get large signage visible from I-95.  They where also willing to build an exit off of I-95 and the city said no to both. Convinced they would be in a shopping center that no one knew existed and no one knew how to get to, businesses began to withdraw from the shopping center and things fell apart.”

Sam’s Club and Walmart were completed in 2002 and not a single other business joined them. In 2007, the Sam’s Club also closed its doors, leaving Walmart with 45 acres to themselves.

Also hoping to integrate gambling into Port Covington, Maryland’s gaming law was not passed until 2007.  The investors had already given up on the idea for a casino as it was too little too late and Port Covington was already deemed a failure. Horseshoe Casino opened in the Stadium Area in 2014.

The shopping center was acquired by Bethesda-based Finmarc Management Inc. in 2005 and sold to Sagamore nine years later.

The condition of Port Covington and the shopping center has often been a point of frustration for South Baltimore residents, with every mention of the area and its future leading to a flood of traffic to SouthBMore.com.

After the sale of the Port Covington Shopping Center in 2014, SouthBMore.com posed the question to readers in a poll, “What would you like to see happen at Port Covington?” The choices were:

  • Finish the shopping center
  • A more upscale shopping center
  • Mixed use with shopping, offices and residential
  • A large residential community with light retail
  • Port industries
  • An entertainment destination
  • A corporate headquarters

The desire for better shopping options in the area was very evident from the poll results. In an almost dead heat, ‘Mixed use with shopping, office and residential’ edged out ‘A more upscale shopping center’ by one vote. The two choices combined for 64% of the votes.

On Site TransitThe real answer to that question turns out to be a mix of many of those options with a corporate headquarters for Under Armour as an anchor. Sagamore is proposing several sections of Port Covington with East Waterfront highlighted by restaurant, retail, entertainment, and hospitality facilities as well as a park system along the water. A new eco-park will be built on a small existing peninsula between Under Armour’s campus and Sagamore Spirit.

The majority of the residential projects will also be placed closer to I-95. Near the current site of The Baltimore Sun, Sagamore is proposing a new passive recreation park called Founders’ Park. The oval-shaped park will be surrounded by office and retail projects and will be the center of many road grids. West of Hanover St. at an area known currently as West Covington will be West End. There will be bigger foot prints and the team envisions commodity retail or bigger stores, maker spaces, offices, residential areas, and parking.

Transportation and infrastructure improvements have also been proposed including  modified bus routes and express bus routes, a water taxi line with three proposed stops along the eastern shore of Port Covington, many bike share stations, a spur-off the Light Rail from Westport that will include two new stops along McComas St., and a circulating bus route for the development. The Sagamore team has already met with the Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA).

The team is also proposing two pedestrian and bike bridges to improve access to the site from the South Baltimore Neighborhood and Westport. One would connect the 1900 blocks of Light and Charles St. going over the train tracks and under I-95. The neighborhood is currently only connected to Port Covington at Hanover St. which is criticized by many for its lack of pedestrian friendliness entering Port Covington. The connection to Westport would include a reconstruction of the Spring Garden Bridge, which was originally a rail bridge that connects West Covington and Westport.

Under Armour and Sagamore’s move to Port Covington has already begun with two projects now online and another under construction. City Garage, named for the building’s former use as a garage for Baltimore City, was recently completed. The 133,000 sq. ft. facility at 101 W. Dickman St. is described as “a hub for manufacturing, innovation and entrepreneurship.” The finishing touches are being put on the former Sam’s Club building at the shopping center which was renovated into a 170,000 sq. ft. office building for Under Amour’s finance and IT department. Construction is also underway for the Sagamore Spirit rye whiskey distillery, a four-building project at 301 E. Cromwell St. 

Full plans for Under Armour’s new campus are expected in the near future. With the closing of Walmart, it’s clear that one chapter has closed at Port Covington and the next is just beginning.

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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  • rcxworks

    Shocker! The city said no. It’s the main reason progression in the city has been so slow. The big picture always seems missed on the city regulators.

  • PigtownDesign

    What’s sad is the store closed to abruptly, and I am sure that many people didn’t have time to collect their Rx. Every time i’ve been there, there’s a line of elderly people there picking up their rx. I never saw the closing date anywhere but on FB and here, so how would people have known?

  • James Wolf

    Is there any discussion about the Hanover St. Bridge? I love that bridge for the way it looks, but it’s in pretty bad shape.

  • Donato Kessler

    he city killed it years ago. lost jobs for over 10 years. It meant more welfare recipients voting Democratic