Baltimore-based apparel manufacturer Under Armour has enjoyed a prominent place in local news media over the past several months. While much of this attention has been focused on the planned $5.5 billion Port Covington development – which last week received City Council approval for partial public financing – Port Covington is but one of several major planned expansions of the company’s physical presence in the Baltimore area, including, most recently, a plan to build a new global distribution and processing center at the Sparrow’s Point entrance to the Baltimore harbor. Such an investment in Baltimore’s once-flourishing industrial maritime regions, if carried out responsibly and with a commitment to the community in which it is situated, holds significant promise for the creation of a revitalized working waterfront, and, with it, a reimagination of Baltimore’s prospects as one of the nation’s leading port cities.
Following the bankruptcy and collapse of Bethlehem Steel, once a national leader in shipbuilding and metalwork and a centerpiece of the Baltimore industrial economy, the Sparrow’s Point zone remained largely unused despite its prominent location along the Patapsco River, at the entrance to the Baltimore harbor. In 2014, the three-thousand acre area was purchased by a development corporation, and, earlier this year, renamed ‘Tradepoint Atlantic.’ Under Armour’s commitment to a 1.3 million square foot distribution center marks the third major investment in the new site, following development in the area by both FedEx and Pasha Automotive, a transport firm. With its planned private rail transport connection and forty-foot deep docking facility, Tradepoint Atlantic offers Under Armour and the other corporate tenants easy access to global imports by sea and a rapid means of distribution by land across the eastern seaboard.
Yet the promise of Tradepoint Atlantic and similar sites for Baltimore lies not only in the prospect of repurposing abandoned industrial areas and strengthening the city’s status as a key national port, but equally – and perhaps more importantly – in the possibility of creating a durable base for new jobs at a time when the city’s unemployment rate is several points above the national average. The one thousand jobs promised by Under Armour in its new Tradepoint Atlantic facility are jobs that can, and should, be filled from the ranks of local residents for whom the recruitment of new industry to the once-bustling area presents a unique opportunity. They are jobs that can form the foundation of a reinvigorated community in a revitalized region.
The site need not be limited to industry alone. Creative rethinking of Sparrow’s Point could, in time, produce plans for an area attractive for tourists as well as local families. Such plans might, for instance, include the long-explored, but never realized, repurposing of nearby Fort Carroll. It is not difficult, with some imagination, to envision the 19th century fort designed to protect the approach to Baltimore – which now stands desolate and overrun on a concrete island just offshore from Tradepoint Atlantic – as an historic landmark and park accessible by the city’s water taxi network (the taxis were recently purchased by Under Armour’s founder, Kevin Plank). Indeed, plans for Fort Carroll to be converted into a ‘gateway ecological park’ have been proposed, but never materialized.
Before such plans come to pass, however, emphasis must be placed on ensuring that developments like Tradepoint Atlantic serve the long-term interests of the communities in which they are situated. This emphasis requires a clear focus on promoting economic growth and opportunity for the surrounding area, a focus made real by durable jobs for local inhabitants and a careful and responsible consideration of the environmental impact of any new development. It requires a sense of proactive stewardship on the part of companies interested in investing in the region, particularly given the area’s troubled environmental past. And it requires, too, an understanding that the strength of Baltimore’s future relies on the sharing in the benefits of economic prosperity by the entirety of its inhabitants.
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