Baltimore's Sagamore Pendry, in tandem with Under Armour, honors city's heritage

(Sagamore Pendry Baltimore)

Plenty of tropical resorts have overwater bungalows, but few, if any, hotels along the northeast coast of the United States have such a feature. This will change in late March when the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore opens its doors in a historic waterfront building with a pier that lets guests sleep right on Baltimore Harbor.

The project began when Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank approached Montage Hotels & Resorts heads Alan Fuerstman and Michael Fuerstman about finding some use for an abandoned historic brick building right in the heart of Fells Point. “Somebody should do something with this amazing asset and make something special for the community,” Michael Fuerstman recalled Plank saying at the time. 

Seeking new opportunities for Montage’s nascent Pendry brand, the company partnered with Plank’s Sagamore Development Company and War Horse (owned by Kevin Plank’s brother Scott Plank) to create a unique destination hotel out of the abandoned building. The team kept one question front-of-mind as they brainstormed: “What would a really relevant luxury adaptive-reuse hotel that celebrates Baltimore and its amazing history look like in this building, in this neighborhood, at this location—and overwater?” 

Celebrating History

Keeping a sense of history was vital for the team. Recreation Pier, built in 1914, was once a dance hall and social center for the community. Before that, Fells Point was the second-largest point of entry into the United States behind Ellis Island. “People set foot on U.S. soil for the very first time in this building,” Michael Fuerstman said. “That’s a very special, humbling, amazing thing we want to honor.” 

To keep a sense of place and history, Pendry tapped Baltimore local Patrick Sutton to create the interiors, while New York-based BHC Architects handled the structure. “Sutton had a great vision for the property that aligned with our vision: Celebrate the architecture of the building and preserve as much of it as possible. Tell the story of Baltimore through the building. Glamorize its industrial past. Balance a lot of the old with some new elements,” Michael Fuerstman said.

To that end, the classic waterfront building became the hotel’s “Head House” with public spaces, while the contemporary guestrooms stretch out onto the reconstructed pier, offering unique views of the city. 

As the team began working on bringing the antique building and pier into the modern era, history kept getting in the way. Additional support structures needed for the pier kept hitting “very hard material” on the harbor floor that blocked development. When the sediment was cleared away, the team discovered cannons that had been left under the water centuries before—abandoned by European traders bringing New World goods back to the Old World who left behind their only defense against pirates to create more room for cargo. “We got them verified and we will have some as part of the property,” Michael Fuerstman said. Much like the discovery of the cannons themselves, their location in the hotel will be a surprise for visitors. “It will be a cool part of the narrative. It celebrates what was already here, and the history of Baltimore and of the building.” 

Overcoming Challenges

Fuerstman acknowledged that most people don’t think of Baltimore when they think of locations for destination hotels. Instead, he said, they tend to associate the city with riots, or crime-filled TV shows like “The Wire” or “Homicide: Life on the Street.” (In fact, Recreation Pier was used as a set for some “Homicide” scenes back in the day.) “We come into this recognizing that there is perception issue with Baltimore,” Fuerstman said. “We see it as a great opportunity to tell the story about what’s actually happening in Baltimore. And it’s a great story celebrating a rich history—a story of innovation, manufacturing and creativity.”