The Chatter

Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Ventures Acquires Baltimore Water Taxi Service

After major contract renewal, Plank plans to implement new fleet and additional stops.

Kevin Plank’s multi-billion dollar developments have already taken over Baltimore on dry land and now he’s setting his sites on the sea.

The Under Armour founder and CEO announced yesterday that his investment firm Sagamore Ventures has acquired 100 percent of Harbor Boating Inc., the company that operates the Baltimore Water Taxi.

On the heels of that announcement, Harbor Boating was awarded a significant contract renewal by the Board of Estimates this morning, securing major changes on the horizon for the city’s maritime transportation service.

The granted settlement provides Harbor Boating with the exclusive rights to city-owned docks and public landings for the next 20 years and includes two five-year renewals.

“The way we see it, it’s a forever-and-a-day kind of thing,” says Baltimore Water Taxi president Michael McDaniel. “We really needed that long-term contract as far as our ability to invest in the future, as opposed to a smaller contract that could have been very limiting.”

McDaniel says that the recent renewal combined with the sale to Sagamore Ventures makes it a transformative time for Baltimore Water Taxi, which will soon feature an updated fleet, Uber-esque on-demand services, and additional routes for the federally funded Harbor Connector—a waterborne extension of the Charm City Circulator.

The first of 10 taxis in a brand new state-of-the-art fleet is estimated to hit the harbor as early as September. Custom-built by local manufacturer Maritime Applied Physics Corporation, the new environmentally conscious boats will be Wifi-enabled and completely bike friendly—a perk that will come in handy as Baltimore prepares to launch its first bike-share program this fall. (Read more about new Baltimore public transit initiatives in our September issue.)

“They’re specifically designed to cut carbon footprints,” McDaniel says. “As technology evolves, we’re going to work on taking them from low emission to no emission, and making them 100-percent electric.”

Aesthetically, the proposed water taxis have a very different look than the current nautical blue-and-white vehicles. Sagamore’s renderings depict mostly black boats lined with the pattern of Baltimore City flags, exuding a more intimidating, militaristic feel. The firm’s design was inspired by the classic Chesapeake Bay Deadrise workboat with homage to the distinctive Hooper Island Draketail at the stern.

“The combined power of Harbor Boats’ expertise and our vision for iconic and efficient new vessels, built right here in Baltimore City, is an unprecedented opportunity for the harbor as a means of transportation,” Sagamore Ventures’ managing partner Demian Costa said in a press release.

Harbor Boating also plans to designate a number of smaller taxis to an on-demand system that will transport residents from any water taxi stop, marina, or anchorage point in the city (even those that expand beyond of the Inner Harbor.) The on-demand model is something that the company tested earlier this year during Visit Baltimore’s Light City festivities.

“All of those boats were full to capacity,” McDaniel notes. “As the public becomes more aware of the service, it’s definitely going to increase the volume of traffic that we support.”

Plank has been in talks of partnering with Harbor Boating for just over a year. What started as a smaller conversation to extend water taxi service to his new mixed-use Port Covington development eventually merged into a full-fledged joint venture.

The new plan adds a total of nine new stops and, fittingly, two of them are sites of Under Armour developments in Port Covington and Cherry Hill. The stops will be added by 2017.

“This is an exciting moment for public access to the waterways in Baltimore City,” said Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries, in a press release. “The new connections are game-changers for those communities and their ability to access opportunities in Port Covington and the Inner Harbor.”

Baltimore Water Taxi has been in service since 1975, providing transportation for locals and tourists alike throughout the Inner Harbor waterways with docks everywhere from Canton to Locust Point. McDaniel says that, in addition to reducing congestion in the streets, he hopes that the changes will provide a more accessible way of life for city residents.

“When we started, Fells Point and Harbor East weren’t what they are today,” he says. “We’ve built a history of adapting to these neighborhood changes.”