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How a Hospitality Company Built an Exemplary Instance of Adaptive Reuse…and Saved a Piece of American History

The pandemic-fueled economic downturn has left cities with an abundance of empty commercial spaces, but there is a solution that’s not only economically viable but can also strengthen communities: adaptive reuse. 

Photo courtesy of Sagamore Pendry Baltimore

Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, located on the Baltimore waterfront, is an exemplary instance of adaptive reuse, demonstrating how the hospitality industry can expand an upscale brand while preserving an important piece of architectural history—and simultaneously strengthening an urban community.

The luxury hotel is a former warehouse in the heart of the Fell’s Point neighborhood in Baltimore. The building, formally known as the Recreation Pier or Rec Pier, stood vacant for more than 15 years. The brick Beaux Arts building originally stored cargo coming through the busy port.

The Recreation Pier served as a landing point for thousands of new immigrants processed at the Locust Point immigration station. This was once the third largest point of entry for immigrants to the United States after Ellis Island and the Port of Philadelphia, earning it the nickname, “Baltimore’s Ellis Island.” From 1868 until its closure in 1914, over a million European immigrants entered Baltimore through the Locust Point piers. 

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I recently interviewed Juan Webster, the general manager of the hotel, to learn more about this unique property.

Q: What were the factors that drove your decision to undertake an adaptive reuse project rather than a new build?

A: It was the adaptive reuse that led us [to] the building. Kevin Plank, our owner, is the founder of the Under Armour brand activewear. His offices are across the harbor, and he saw the building falling apart and that it appeared to have been forgotten. 

What was the inspiration for a luxury hotel in Baltimore? 

We think that the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore embodies the city’s rich history, it’s vibrant personality and idyllic harbor setting with character, inspiration and style. The area of Fell’s Point is rooted in tradition, and we honored the historic essence of the property. Our extensive renovation efforts have restored the pier to its former glory. It still reflects that bygone era and creates the environment to which we’ve added our impeccable service, unparalleled quality and travel that inspires, but with a modern-day sensibility and aesthetic that speaks to today’s guest.

What were some of the challenges once you’d made that decision? And was the City of Baltimore helpful with zoning and permits?

The city was active in the development. The building has national historic landmark status, and the National Historic Landmarks Program was instrumental throughout the planning. The impact to the City of Baltimore, and to the Fell’s Point area, was important. The city was super supportive.

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What are the key design and architectural details that you preserved? Are there any hidden or secret architectural elements inside the hotel?

It’s the architectural details that are the beauty of the hotel, and this is what makes the history come alive. As we were building out the site, we found three cannons underwater in the harbor. We wanted to incorporate these treasures into the building, so two cannons are at the pool, and one was installed into the floor in the bar. This has become a key element of the hotel, and we named the bar the Cannon Room. It’s a whiskey bar which is shaped like a whiskey barrel. We offer whiskey tastings and offer our guests distillery tours, acknowledging the Sagamores’ influence on the Maryland whiskey industry. 

The Canon Room Bar. Photo courtesy of Sagamore Pendry Baltimore

Of what are you most proud of with the result?

To sustain any business, you have to have local ties and support to the community. I’m most proud of the fact that we get to tell the story of this space. It never gets old, and there is always a fun factor. It maintains its place in history, and it connects the community to the building. 

What feedback do guests and community members give you?

The guest who told me that their grandparents entered the U.S. through this building when it was the immigrant entry center really meant a lot to me. There have been guests who had their high school proms here or who played basketball at the rec center on the roof. I love the impact that we make for our first-time guests…in a fantastic way. Those who say, “I’m going to come back, I never knew Baltimore had this.” 

The Hotel Pool. Photo courtesy of Sagamore Pendry Baltimore

Things to Know If You Go:

Features of the Hotel:

  • 128 guest rooms and suites designed with custom furnishings and featuring harbor views
  • Rec Pier Chop House by acclaimed chef Andrew Carmellini
  • The Cannon Room, a whiskey bar
  • Pool, Bar & Grill, overlooking the harbor
  • Open-air garden courtyard, featuring a Botero sculpture and outdoor seating
  • Access to water taxis and boats featuring a private dock
  • Fitness room equipped with latest cardiovascular and strength training equipment
  • Concierge program, including tours and access to Sagamore Farm and Sagamore Distillery
  • Moët & Chandon vending machine featured in the garden courtyard
  • Outdoor cigar deck with harbor view
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Seasonal Offerings:

This February, fall in love in Fell’s Point and celebrate a romantic escape in the heart of Charm City. Book the “Sweet on Sagamore” package and receive a special charm, a bottle of champagne, $150 dining credit to be enjoyed in-room or in Rec Pier Chop House per stay, breakfast in bed for two once per stay and a 2 p.m. late check-out. To reserve, visit here to book and use offer code PKGVAL. 

*Valid for stays February 1-28, 2022. 

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