Locust Point residents dumbfounded by Under Armour plan to sell community garden plot to developers
Moving its headquarters to Port Covington, the sports apparel giant is selling off the local parcels it owns in South Baltimore, including one where a community/corporate partnership has flourished
Above: Calling it a cherished green space, residents are trying to save the Locust Point Community Garden. (Photo credit: Dave Arndt)
Created in 2018 a half a block from UA’s corporate front door, the Locust Point Community Garden fell out of use during the pandemic, but was re-embraced by the neighborhood with the landowner’s blessing in 2021.
Employees and area residents alike had plots there.
The gardeners worked side-by-side to rejuvenate the lot, pull weeds, plant vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and more.
The Under Armour overseers were good partners, said area resident Dave Arndt.
While the Locust Point Civic Association kicked in funds and organized work days, the company did its part: adding new raised beds and supplying a garden shed, gravel for paths, grass-cutting, water and compost.
“That’s why it was such a big shock – what happened,” said Arndt, who manages the garden.
At the association’s February 28 meeting, as he recalls it, an Under Armour representative told them “we’ve decided to split up our parcels in the neighborhood – we’ll be selling them in the near future.”
“Just to let you know, some developers have expressed an interest in this property,” the rep reportedly told the group.
“Is it really worth it to them to make a little money selling our precious garden on a third of an acre?” – Dave Arndt.
Arndt knew the company was in the process of moving from its Tide Point location to Port Covington, the waterfront development project that was started by UA founder Kevin Plank.
Since then, Arndt has been peppering his UA contacts with requests for a reprieve and for possible ways to save the garden.
Why not refrain from selling the garden lot as a gesture of goodwill to the host community, he suggested.
Or why not donate it to Baltimore Green Space, a local land trust, which could then lease it back to the community.
So far, the company hasn’t budged, Arndt said, while pointing out that $650 million in TIF public financing was handed out to Plank to develop Port Covington.
“Is it really worth it to them – to their reputation – to make a little money selling our precious garden on a third of an acre?” he asked.
“People are upset”
There are currently 80 garden households, with 34 more on the waiting list.
Residents regard the lot, at 1134 Hull Street, as a cherished community gathering spot. It stands as a rare green space in densely developed South Baltimore.
“People are upset,” Arndt said, noting that a petition calling for the garden to be saved has garnered more than 1,100 signatures.
“Green spaces are disappearing in Locust Point,” one signer wrote. “On a personal level, our family has enjoyed growing our own vegetables and developing new relationships with other neighbors in the garden.”
“I view UA as a positive for Baltimore city, but decisions like this remind me that maybe it’s just another company who doesn’t care,” wrote another.
UA: “Consolidating our footprint”
Asked about the controversy, the company declined to make a representative available. Instead, it provided a statement to be attributed to “an Under Armour spokesperson.”
The statement confirmed that the sale of the garden property is part of its plan to leave its Tide Point location by the end of 2024.
“As a result, we have begun to notify the Locust Point community about some potential changes, including the sale of residential lots currently owned by Under Armour,” the company said.
“We anticipate that these properties will be put on the market and sold in the near future” – Under Armour.
“We appreciate that since 2018 the community garden has become a source of pride for the community, but as we consolidate our footprint, we will no longer maintain the residential lots where the garden is located,” the statement continued.
“We anticipate that these properties will be put on the market and sold at some point in the near future.”
The company’s statement concludes by noting it “look[s] forward to sharing just how important this partnership has been with the future owner(s) of these properties.”
What does UA’s real estate sell-off mean for the gardeners looking forward to another summer of tending their tomatoes, zucchinis, pumpkins, roses , blueberry bushes, honeybees and more?
Should they start turning over the soil? Or are the bulldozers coming soon to knock down the cherry trees and everything else?
Arndt said he’s been told by his UA contacts that they should be okay for one more summer, but even that assurance feels shaky.
The company’s official statement is vague, offering this:
“For as long as we own the property, the residents of the Locust Point community will continue to have access to our campus, the promenade, and the community gardens for its allowable purpose.”
An Industrial Past
A retiree who moved to the neighborhood in 2020, Arndt has researched the history of the garden parcel, with key information coming from an assessment done as part of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Voluntary Cleanup Program.
It notes that the first developed use of the land was in 1902 as a site for residential buildings.
In the early 1950s, the property was used by the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. as a maintenance garage and warehouse. Then it became a warehouse for Shields Rubber.
The structure was demolished in the 1980s, and Under Armour bought the site in 2011, Arndt said, explaining what happened next:
“They remediated the property and took away three feet of soil and replaced it with fresh dirt,” he said, a process meant to remove the “small localized areas at the property with high concentrations of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene in the surficial soils.”
Rebirth after Pandemic
Surrounded by a black aluminum fence, it was tended as a garden by employees and some residents until the building emptied out during the pandemic.
At the suggestion of Councilman Eric Costello, Arndt brought the issue to the Civic Association and helped spark the garden renaissance.
Now Arndt is hoping that a solution can be found to save it.
“Under Armour has a chance to show that all those things they always say – about wanting to be green, sustainable and community oriented – are actually true,” he said.
Possibly, he speculated, the property’s industrial history will also work in the garden’s favor.
A developer would have to contend with the more extensive soil remediation required for a residential project (“they’d have to go down 10 feet or put in an environmental cap”) and with the fact that the land lies within the state’s Critical Areas zone, triggering fees charged to offset stormwater impacts.
“Maybe that will scare buyers off and keep the price down,” he said.