For those Baltimoreans who have heard the name Port Covington mentioned from time to time but don’t know exactly where it is, here are some handy directions: head south toward Federal Hill just below Harborplace, and then drive further south past Locust Point and Fort McHenry.
Or to put it another way, just keep going south until you reach the future.
Located on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, Port Covington is not just a piece of city geography — it’s a state of mind. It’s a sign that the city of Baltimore is more than its depressing homicide statistics or the latest academic tragedies coming out of its public schools system.
This is the biggest municipal project in Baltimore in years, ultimately involving more than a million square feet of offices, apartments, shops, 40 acres of parks and green space, and a hotel and waterfront marina. It’s being billed as one of the largest urban revitalization efforts in the world.
Port Covington’s first phase alone will cost about $500 million. Over the next decade or so, costs will run an estimated $3 billion. It’ll be the equivalent of 45 city blocks. It’s expected to become one of the leading cybersecurity and technology hubs in the United States.
It’s been three years since city officials approved hundreds of millions in public financing for Port Covington. And now, as reported on the front page of The Sun on Nov. 10, bulldozers and dump trucks have begun preparing the ground for the project’s first five buildings. Construction is set to begin in January, and occupancy is anticipated in 2021.
The project means hundreds of new construction jobs. It means high-end tenants coming to a city desperately hungry to build its tax base. It means new cyber-related jobs beginning with the very first wave of tenants.
It means an emotional shot in the arm for a city which has endured so many setbacks over the past several years that it seems to identify itself by its highly publicized flaws rather than the strength of its neighborhoods and bustling waterfront areas.
Inevitably, it also means controversy. Some critics question the use of public funds for a project that seems geared mainly to attract people with big money.
Similar arguments were heard when Harborplace was first initiated back in the 1970s. But then it became a great source of civic pride and out-of-town tourist money.
Port Covington doesn’t have the same geographical centrality as Harborplace. But it carries some of the same optimism – and the same possibilities for an emotional and economic boon for a city that’s hungry for both.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.