Baltimore native Pinky Cole finally brings Slutty Vegan home: ‘I was always a winner’
By: Matti Gellman
No one is less surprised by the success of the growing plant-based food chain and soon-to-be main attraction for the new Baltimore Peninsula neighborhood than its founder: Baltimore native Pinky Cole.
Slutty Vegan, her restaurant, as well as its companion Bar Vegan, is scheduled to open in the Rye Street Market, a boutique office space within the Baltimore Peninsula neighborhood (formerly known as Port Covington). It joins the company’s other eateries in Georgia, Texas, Alabama and New York.
She sat down with The Baltimore Banner on Thursday, clutching the baby bump protruding from her satin leopard dress, to discuss the announcement before a news conference featuring a performance from Morgan State University’s marching band and remarks from Mayor Brandon Scott. Behind her lay at least a dozen untouched copies of her “I Hope You Fail” memoir. Its early October release had prompted a Wednesday visit to “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” which, Cole noted, was not her first time as a guest there.
Slutty Vegan’s success left many at the event inspired, including one resident who walked up to Cole crying Thursday to express his gratitude, she said. Some have called her a “young Oprah,” according to Cole — a comparison she’s never shied away from.
“I knew as a kid that I was going to be great in the world,” said Cole, 35. “I was always a winner. I always had a winning mentality and that didn’t die.”
Cole’s business, now valued around $100 million, was built on her flair for the theatrical. Growing up on Cedonia Avenue in East Baltimore, she learned about stocks and business practices from her father, who had been incarcerated during her childhood.
The only person able to compete with Cole for the spotlight was her mother, the lead singer of a local reggae band called Strikers Posse. Ichelle Cole, a native of Jamaica, spent nights center stage in locs that touched the floor, singing and playing “nearly every instrument,” according to her daughter.
When the Posse went to Ocean City, so did Cole. She often joined her mother in the spotlight.
“I would see these crowds of people and I saw how many people loved my mother and I’m like, ‘I want people to love me like that, too,’” Cole said.
She took on her mother’s Rastafarian diet of fresh produce and some fish. But by 2007, Cole cut out meat entirely. She cooked vegan food for her friends, though Cole is the first to admit she was never a chef. In her early 20s, she used the money she made working as a television producer on the Maury Povich show to start a bubblegum pink-painted, Jamaican-inspired storefront in Harlem, New York.
About a year after opening in 2015, the restaurant burned down in a grease fire.
“People never talk about failure,” Cole said. “It’s inevitable. Like, life happens. … And I want people to know you don’t have to wallow in negativity.”
Success came for Cole in 2020, when she capitalized on her love of a plant-based diet and created the first iteration of Slutty Vegan, which she called a “merge between the two most pleasurable experiences in life: sex and food.”
Interested converts could choose plant-based burgers slathered in the usual condiments and vegan cheese, otherwise known as a “Sloppy Toppy,” or sandwiches like the “Hollywood Hooker,” a seductive twist on a classic Philly cheesesteak.
“I knew I had to get people dialed in, so that they can spark a dialogue and start to ask questions. And if I can get people to ask questions, that means that I can educate them on whatever it is I want to teach them,” she said.
And that was vegan food. She got pushback in the beginning, she said, but saw her business spurring conversation about the way customers eat and respond to marketing.
Whispers of Cole’s return to Charm City have hung over the Baltimore food world since the company’s infancy. In December 2022, Cole said she’s “gotta come back home” in an interview recorded with the radio station 92Q. In March of the following year, she tested the Chesapeake Bay waters with a pop-up store at Hampden’s Whitehall Mill. Lines of hungry people wrapped around the building.
“Who knows, if we run out of burgers we may just have to open a location here,” she previously said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Cole said she remains optimistic about the growth of her Slutty Vegan chain despite a volatile year in the restaurant and vegan food industry.
She told The Baltimore Banner her business recently won a bid to open a location in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the country by passenger traffic. Slutty Vegan is also looking into licensing the brand overseas.
“My husband … he’ll be the guinea pig,” she said of Derrick Hayes, founder and CEO of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks.
”But right now, the main focus is the Baltimore Peninsula,” Cole said. She indicated that plans to move into Northwood Commons, which previously listed Slutty Vegan as one of their new tenants over Instagram, were not currently in the works.
”I like new things. I like new fresh things,” she said. “There’s a big opportunity to be able to drive a new audience to this area.”
Cole said another draw was learning that more than half the employees hired to work on the Baltimore Peninsula’s $5.5 million development effort would be Baltimore residents.
MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder of MAG Partners, a New York firm leading the project, said Cole’s arrival as the anchor tenant in Rye Street Market will help drive traffic to the neighborhood.
According to Gilmartin, developers are expecting more residents and local businesses to move in after Cole, including a potential grocer; there is no grocery store within the community’s largely industrial 235 square acres.
In what could be a Baltimore first, communities and developer are partnering in South Baltimore
By: Jasmine Vaughn-Hall and Hallie Miller
The coalition has formed a nonprofit that is in charge of overseeing how a momentous volume of funding gets spent in South Baltimore.
Views of CSX facilities scene from the Curtis Bay neighborhood in Baltimore, Thursday, August 3, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)
Growing up in South Baltimore, Michael Middleton became accustomed to the invisible barriers separating his neighborhood from the next one over. Those imaginary lines, he recalled, meant that Cherry Hill and Brooklyn neighbors shared little in common besides geography.
Now retired, Middleton said something extraordinary has happened to those walls over the last few years. Six South Baltimore communities, wary of development north of the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch, joined forces nearly a decade ago and turned a page. Together, they and the developers leading Port Covington’s revival have built relationships, convened to discuss shared problems and formed a nonprofit organization and board to handle a momentous influx of money they can put to use in their communities however they see fit.
The nonprofit, SB7 Coalition Inc. — representing Cherry Hill, Brooklyn, Mount Winans, Lakeland, Westport, Curtis Bay and their Baltimore Peninsula partners — is set to receive more than $20 million by 2026. With that historic investment, the nonprofit organization and the residents it serves are tasked with something both novel and daunting: using the money to fill in the gaps left behind by generations of neglect.
The needs in the six communities are varied and vast, ranging from dire environmental threats to an over concentration of vacant and abandoned housing. And now, representatives across six very different neighborhoods — many of them volunteers or brand new to grant writing, community organizing and managing large sums of social-impact funds — say they are starting to see the first fruits of their efforts bloom.
“For decades, the communities really didn’t have much to do with one another. The most significant thing that has happened is that we have come together now,” said Middleton, a former poverty law attorney who now leads the South Baltimore nonprofit organization. “And the six communities recognize that we have more in common than we have differences.”
The ways by which the funding is divided, allocated and spent are complex: The coalition has devised a multi-tier system that appropriates some of the money for individual community organizations in each neighborhood; some for broad priorities such as transportation, public safety and education; and some for recipients whose work directly impacts the South Baltimore area.
Middleton, who formerly led the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, is first to acknowledge that the $20 million investment can only go so far.
But it’s a start, he said, that can set these communities up to be more prosperous and effective in the long run. And for what could be the first time in the city’s history, a private developer and a group of community members are banding together to see the work through.
Greg Sawtell, Chenire Carter, Michael Middleton, Ashley Cotton and Lindsay Staton pose for a portrait outside of the SB7 coalition’s future office space in Baltimore, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)
A long-term commitment to South Baltimore communities
The six communities once housed the workforces of South Baltimore’s industrial past. Over the last few decades, fueled by manufacturing’s exodus, the community demographics have changed. And from 2010 to 2020 alone, the population decreased by about 5%, city Department of Planning data shows. The Latino population more than doubled over that same period.
And now, the first Baltimore Peninsula residential and office tenants are trickling in. The more than $5.5 billion project — funded partly with some $660 million in tax-increment financing from the city, the largest such package to date — is expected to bring millions of square feet of office, retail, residential and public park space spanning 235 acres of mostly barren and industrial waterfront land. It will contain the new headquarters of sports apparel giant Under Armour, whose founder, Kevin Plank, began buying up the land about a decade ago.
SB7 was formed largely as a response to skepticism about what effect a project of this scope and scale would have on its residential neighbors. Though it involves no direct displacement of businesses or residents, some neighborhood leaders have raised concerns about being priced out of their homes, excluded from incoming investment and ignored in favor of a new “mini-city.”
While some of these concerns still exist, those involved in the nonprofit’s work say they are building lines of communication, collaboration and change that they have long gone without.
“So many things are starting to get attention — multi-decade-long priorities that didn’t get done because there were no resources,” said Greg Sawtell, an SB7 board member and co-president of the Curtis Bay Association. “The outcomes aren’t there yet, but it’s a process. The structure is there.”
At the center of the community benefits agreement is a multimillion-dollar commitment to the six neighborhoods from Sagamore Development Co., Plank’s development arm. That includes a direct $10 million disbursement over the first five years and a commitment from Sagamore Ventures to help the coalition raise another $10 million over the following five years, according to the 2016 agreement.
The deal also includes a requirement from Sagamore and the other Baltimore Peninsula developers to contribute funds from a portion of every new lease signed to SB7 — a minimum of 15 cents per net square foot — and a portion of every transfer fee per property sale. Sagamore Ventures has also donated $1 million to Baltimore’s CollegeBound Foundation and $1 million to Partners in Excellence for local students’ scholarships.
How has the rest of the money been spent so far?
The 10-page agreement does not dictate how the community entities or the SB7 nonprofit should use the funds, but it does offer a list of short- and long-term priorities that the coalition should address over the next 30 years. They include one-time expenditures on items such as athletic fields and community centers, and it gives examples of needs such as cemetery maintenance, funding for youth development and recreational programming.
“They know what they want in their communities, but may need guidance and/or resources to bring their aspirations to fruition,” said Marc Weller, the president and founding partner of Weller Development Partners, who led development of the project’s first phase. Weller’s team served as advisers to the group from 2016 until 2022, when a new development team, MAG Partners, took the reins.
“It was purposely designed that way so that they could control their own destiny, future, and decisions,” he added. “Our philosophy has always emphasized the importance of community interaction, and frankly, it is just the right way to do business.”
Mark Pollak, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP who represents the Baltimore Peninsula developers and helped negotiate the 2016 agreement, said the coalition may well be the first of its kind in Baltimore.
“There were no models from which we took our ideas from,” he said in an email. “We believe the partnership is a successful model that represents what can happen when the City and a development team believe in the ability of a project, in collaboration with community members, to deliver unprecedented benefits to the City.”
How they’ll pick projects
The structure through which money flows to communities is a complicated one — so much so that, during an interview with reporters earlier this year, SB7 board members — including representatives from MAG Partners — came prepared with thick, stapled packets of paper they could refer to.
Here’s how it works: To start, each of the six community organizations receives $200,000 apiece to help them grow. The money might be used to secure designated meeting space, add paid staff or apply for nonprofit status.
On another tier of the funding system, six committees — devoted to organizing around solutions for education, public safety, quality of life/zero waste, transportation, economic development and community land trust — can propose projects that can have impact in at least two or more of the six communities. Those proposals must address concerns laid out in SB7′s strategic plan and are reviewed by committees, the nonprofit’s appropriations committee and then the board for approval.
And finally, community association review panels can award grants of up to $2,500 at a time to individuals or organizations already active in the area to further their work or fund new projects. These recipients include the Black Yield Institute, the Baltimore Compost Collective and the South Baltimore Community Land Trust. Each community receives $50,000 to spend.
Coalition members said they rely on their communities to identify challenges they face and how to solve them. But not everyone always agrees on every expenditure and priority,which can spark debate and occasional infighting, the SB7 representatives said.
“I don’t think you’re going to find authentic governance without potential conflict, and it’s that process that gets to some of our best outcomes,” said Sawtell of the Curtis Bay Association.
‘It’s a lot of money’
Out in the communities, SB7 members say their work touches upon a spectrum of needs identified in their neighborhoods: cleaning and greening, older adult programming, health and wellness.
For example, some of the funds have gone toward commemorating a 100-year-old firehouse in Curtis Bay and helping the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter with chipping and vaccination services in Brooklyn and Cherry Hill.
Community members also said the larger community grant awards, meanwhile, have presented new opportunities to collaborate on projects and ideas.
One such proposal — a transportation initiative — is funding church vans that can be used by the South Baltimore nonprofit City of Refuge to shuttle residents around who may not have other modes of transit available. Another allowed the SB7 nonprofit to purchase a former Brooklyn dental clinic that will be converted into community meeting space.
The South Baltimore Environmental Justice Collaborative is another such combination of efforts. Students Carlos Sanchez, Taysia Thompson and Vilma Gutierrez are on a small team that’s collecting data that tracks environmental outcomes for neighborhoods close to the CSX Coal Terminal in Curtis Bay, where methane gas that built up in a tunnel exploded in Dec. 2021.
“We’re the next up-and-coming generation to fix the problem that’s been broken for many years,” Thompson said.
From left: Taysia Thompson, Vilma Gutierrez and Carlos Sanchez pose for a portrait outside of the CSX Facility in Curtis Bay on Aug. 4, 2023. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
LETS GO Boys and Girls, a nonprofit that promotes equitable access to STEM learning, was given a grant to provide coaching, training, mentoring and materials in Westport, Cherry Hill, Brooklyn and Lakeland.
In Brooklyn, funds to strengthen the community association still haven’t been distributed, but that’s because Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn is solidifying its budget. Andrea Mayer, co-chair of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn, said they’ve changed the budget a few times as they’ve decided on different programs and partnerships they want to pursue in the community.
“We were struggling because it’s a lot of money and we wanted to be wise in how we spend it,” Mayer said. She said they’re considering hiring staff to help run the community association.
In Mount Winans, Angela Smothers, president of the community association, surveyed residents door to door in 2021. There were two consistent asks, she said: a community center and more activities for seniors and kids. She plans on using funds for a playground, walking trails and exercise equipment on South Paca Street.
“As opposed to saying, ‘This is what I want or this is what we need,’ I asked, what would be the thing they’d like to see happen?” Smothers said. “They were losing interest because it has been so long, promises that were made were ignored.”
For Keisha Allen, the Westport Neighborhood Association president and chairperson of the Westport Community Development Corporation, a benefit of the SB7 funds is its flexibility to be infused into existing projects. The Westport CDC, for example, owns 17 houses that will eventually be transformed into affordable housing units, and SB7 money is augmenting that work.
Other coalition funds are supporting Westport’s “green ambassador” program, which pays people to take on beautification work such as trash pickup, lawn mowing and tree pruning, she said.
Allen, who recalled feeling skeptical about the plans for Baltimore Peninsula initially, said her feelings have warmed and softened over time.
“We’re no dummies; we saw a threat, and we saw what could happen,” she said about the coalition forming. “It was making sure we weren’t being mistreated or pushed out of our homes.”
Allen said she has high hopes, especially about the brick-and-mortar headquarters in Brooklyn that coalition members will be able to use for meetings, classes and other in-person gatherings. She thinks the physical space could inspire younger people to get involved and make connections. And maybe, she said, it will attract more visits and attention about the coalition’s groundbreaking work.
“Look at what we did, and how we came about, and what we’re doing,” she said. “I don’t see the same enthusiasm in the same way they get enthusiastic about things in other parts of the city.”
MAG Partners scaled its business in a big way during the past year and not long after the company’s birth.
The developer, which MaryAnne Gilmartin founded in July 2020, launched leasing in February for its inaugural New York project, the 480-unit Ruby residential development at 243 West 28th Street in Chelsea. Thirty percent of the units are designated as affordable, and the property includes 8,500 square feet of ground-floor retail. It is named after Black fashion designer Ruby Bailey, and it marked the first of a portfolio of multifamily buildings MAG plans to name after historical and influential women.
“Ruby embodies what we as a company did through the pandemic, where we doubled down on New York and we bet on the city when people were writing its obituary,” Gilmartin said. “We managed to get the financing and the construction underway in very, very difficult circumstances. And now, behold, we have this beautiful building.”
Two other New York City projects from MAG began to take shape in the past year, including at 335 Eighth Avenue, where demolition has begun for a 188-unit rental building. MAG’s project team also assembled a development site at 300 East 50th Street with plans for construction later this year.
Gilmartin also led MAG’s expansion into the Baltimore market by joining with MacFarlane Partners in May 2022 on a 177-acre master-planned community project in South Baltimore. The
1.1 million-square-foot mixed-use development also includes sponsorship from Sagamore Ventures, the family office of Under Armour founder and chairman Kevin Plank, as well as Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group. Since taking over in the developer role, Gilmartin
has signed two commercial leases and an extended-stay hotel development deal, and also started the residential lease-up of nearly 600 units, with a 20 percent affordable component.
“We’ll always be a New York company, but our love of New York and our ability to do what we do, which is to build multiple asset classes and think really big and boldly, brought us to Baltimore,” Gilmartin said. “I think that that was a high-water mark for us to grow the company outside of New York and actually put a flag in the dirt in Baltimore.”
Growing MAG’s footprint into Baltimore contributed to the company more than tripling its employee roster. It now has 33 on staff, 50 percent of them female.
A new Lidl grocery store is headed to 335 Eighth Avenue and it’s anything but little, Commercial Observer has learned.
Lidl inked a 15-year deal for 23,000 square feet at the base of the affordable housing development between West 26th and West 27th streets, according to developer MAG Partners.
Asking rents were $150 per square foot on the ground floor and $65 per square foot in the basement, according to landlord broker Cushman & Wakefield. The new outpost — set to open in 2025 — will be Germany-based Lidl’s second in Manhattan, after it debuted in Harlem at 2187 Frederick Douglass Boulevard in February 2021.
Lidl also has locations in Staten Island and Queens and plans to “open even more stores” in the next few years, including a Brooklyn outpost, Or Raitses, senior director of real estate for Lidl’s New York region, said in a statement.
As part of MAG’s deal with 335 Eighth’s owner — the board of the neighboring housing cooperative — to build the 188-unit residential building, it was required to find a low-cost supermarket for the retail space, and Lidl fit the bill, according to MAG.
“Lidl shares our commitment to the greater Chelsea community and will bring excellent service and products to this neighborhood,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder and CEO of MAG, said in a statement.
MAG will break ground on the seven-story project this month, demolishing the existing retail building previously occupied by a McDonald’s, a Gristedes supermarket and restaurant Taco Bandito.
CBRE’s Stephen Sjurset, David LaPierre, Robert Bonicoro and Duane Davis brokered the deal for Lidl while Alan Schmerzler, Sean Moran, Catherine Merck and Patrick O’Rourke of C&W represented MAG. A spokesperson from CBRE declined to comment.
Published on: April 27, 2023 2:13 PM EDT|Updated on: April 28, 2023 9:58 AM EDT
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Commercial, retail and residential spaces have opened at Baltimore Peninsula, the ambitious, 235-acre mixed-use development on the site of an old industrial port in South Baltimore’s Port Covington neighborhood.
The first few office tenants and residents have moved into three newly constructed buildings at the historically underutilized site, which neighbors several predominantly Black communities to its south.
MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder and CEO of MAG Partners, the lead developer, is not stopping there.
“We need Baltimore to be on everybody’s radar,” she said.
More than 800 townhomes, a large entertainment venue and plans to reconfigure major nearby roads and highways are also in the works for the multi-block project, spanning some 200 acres. Existing tenants there include City Garage, Sagamore Spirit Distillery and Rye Street Tavern.
Hotly contested due to its record-breaking tax increment financing package — which allows developers to use property taxes generated at the site to pay back bonds issued early on for public infrastructure needs — the $5.5 billion waterfront venture promises more than 14 million square feet of new construction upon its completion. City residents, housing activists and economic watchdog groups also have opposed the use of such a large incentive — City Council approved $660 million in tax increment financing funds in 2016 — given Baltimore’s other pressing and existing needs.
Baltimore could be on the hook to pay back the bond costs if developers fail to lease up the site, which has only landed two new office tenants so far. Between the first two residential buildings, 11 units have been leased.
The H. Chambers Company, a planning and design firm specializing in private clubs and hospitality, is the first tenant to occupy an office within the Rye Street Market business complex located at 2455 House St. The company signed on for about 9,000 square feet of space.
The building can accommodate smaller businesses with spaces around 25,000 square feet, but there are larger floor plans as well. The rooms are divided by glass walls and doors, and “the sun, the light and air is abundant in the all corners of the floor plate,” Gilmartin said.
Robert Hickman, board chair of the design firm, said the company looked all over the region for their sixth office location.
But it was the Baltimore Peninsula that offered a place that was “really special,” he said, including access to an outdoor balcony.
“We needed something that really brings the outdoors in. And we deal in the world of private clubs … it’s all about inside outside,” Hickman said.
By 2024, Gilmartin expects enough activity to get nearly 75% of the commercial space leased, she said.
Just across the courtyard are two mixed-use apartments buildings, Rye House and 250 Mission, where maritime-inspired units — with natural wood, and glass and steel finishings — are available. Other amenities include ample green spaces, co-working spaces and some Juliet balconies.
Ryan Watts, the general manager at real estate developer Bozzuto, said the leasing since early April amounts to 15% of the units at Rye House and 10% of the units at 250 Mission.
Of the 416 units at Rye House, 54 will be dedicated to households earning 80% of the area median income, or AMI, while another 35 will be dedicated to those earning 50% of the AMI.
Last year, New York-based MAG Partners and the San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners took over the large-scale development, first pitched in 2016 by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Ventures development firm. Plank and his associates began buying up the land for the site about a decade ago. Since then, sales at the sportswear company have dropped, and the company has scaled back plans for its new Baltimore Peninsula offices.
In November, developers at MAG and the San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners rebranded the development, changing the name to the Baltimore Peninsula from Port Covington. They said they hoped to turn a page on some of the project’s contentious history.
Sagamore Ventures still maintains a “major equity stake” in the project, and a new corporate headquarters for Under Armour is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2024.
Gilmartin said the master plan allows for flexibility, and she envisions building a large entertainment or sports venue, as well as an accompanying hotel and conference center.
She also thinks the project’s scale and easy access to a major highway will make it attractive to the film industry.
“And so we are looking at ways the public sector could develop programs that will attract to that industry, because they’re really good jobs; they train the people both on the other side of the camera and behind the camera,” she said. “And they need the kind of space that our master plan is conducive for.”
Baltimore Banner reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this story.
Baltimore Peninsula begins transformation from construction site to community
By: Lorraine Mirabella
Baltimore Peninsula, the once-industrial South Baltimore waterfront that’s being redeveloped, has turned the corner from longtime construction site to emerging community.
The first phase of the 235-acre project south of Interstate 95 has nearly completed streets, landscaped courtyards and a park with a children’s playground underway. It’s made up of two apartment buildings, now 15% and 10% leased, the Roost hotel, an office building that will be half-filled by CFG Bank and another where 125-year-old design firm H. Chambers Co. moved with 30 workers.
“These are no longer stories or part of a great vision of Kevin Plank. They’re no longer lines on paper,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, one of the developers and founder and CEO of New York-based MAG Partners. “They’re no longer part of a massive construction and infrastructure undertaking. This is a real place.”
Gilmartin spoke about Baltimore Peninsula during a media tour Wednesday to offer an initial glimpse of new buildings since the first occupants moved in.
A handful of residents first moved in last month to the project’s midrise, upscale apartments. Workers for H. Chambers — the first commercial tenant — have settled into hybrid schedules in an office building with outdoor terraces and a fitness center.
The developers are working on signing street-level retailers, and a sign just went up on one building for a Roost extended stay hotel, expected to open this summer.
Gilmartin predicted that by the time Under Armour’s new corporate campus opens at the end of 2024, the apartments will be close to 90% leased, while the commercial portion will be between 70% to 75% leased.
Despite a difficult housing market, high interest rates and high office vacancies in parts of Baltimore, including downtown, Gilmartin said she has reason to be optimistic.
For one, she believes economic conditions will improve by next year. Demand for housing in Baltimore, she said, remains strong. And she sees opportunity in the office market that Baltimore Peninsula can tap into, especially in a post-pandemic work world where she believes more people will return to offices as part of hybrid schedules and where fewer office buildings will be able to be built.
Bob Hickman, chairman of H. Chambers, which has been in the city for more than a century, said Wednesday that the firm needed space suited to a hybrid remote and work-from-office schedule that would be inviting for employees. The firm looked in Towson, Columbia, Annapolis and Baltimore. Besides offering a central location for employees, Baltimore Peninsula offered a “forward thinking and inclusive” spot, he said.
“We needed a much more collaborative kind of space,” Hickman said. “We needed something that really brings the outdoors in.”
Gilmartin said she expects office users to be attracted from outside the city with offerings such as build-to-suit options and short-term leases, both of which can be hard to find, and more efficient space for those looking to downsize.
In many ways, this project allows the real estate community in Baltimore to redefine what it means to go to work every day,” she said.
Gilmartin also said she hopes to see Baltimore Peninsula connected to, rather than divided from, the rest of the city and said developers are working on a long-term plan with state and federal highway officials to come up with alternative configurations for the nearby ramps onto and off I-95.
Looking to the future, she said residents will continue to want homes in work-play-live environments, including Washington commuters who may work more days at home.
She believes the project will be well-suited to meet demand from Baltimore’s medical and research sectors as well as the film industry, which she said is recession-proof, offers good jobs and requires access to highways and large spaces.
“I think the film industry could have a place here at Baltimore Peninsula, and we’re exploring that,” she said.
And eventually she envisions building a large-scale entertainment or sports venue that would draw large numbers of people, one that might even justify a hotel and conference center.
“We need Baltimore to be on everybody’s radar,” Gilmartin said. And when it comes to businesses and residents looking to relocate, “we need it to be on the short list.”
Baltimore Peninsula Developer Leans Into Flexible Office, Considers Building Entertainment Venue
By: Adam Bednar
As the 235-acre Baltimore Peninsula megaproject marches toward the completion of its most extensive building phase yet, the development team has embraced agility as a key to negotiating the obstacles working against the $5.5B project.
That flexibility is reflected in lead developer MAG Partners adopting measures like pre-built office space to boost leasing or potentially constructing a new entertainment venue that could draw visitors and spur hotel demand.
“We tend to think about the possibilities and to know how to pivot and be nimble,” MAG Partners CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin said during a tour of the project Wednesday. “That really separates the mediocre from the good.”
As she walked through the waterfront development’s almost completed Chapter 1B portion, which totals nearly 1.1M SF of office, residential and retail, Gilmartin detailed how her team has responded to headwinds since taking over as lead developer roughly a year ago.
Baltimore’s sagging office market presented arguably the most significant challenge to the development, which includes a considerable amount of office space.
The office market has gone through a tumultuous period as more companies have allowed employees to work from home. In the first quarter, Baltimore’s office market vacancy hit a new record high above 18% after leasing activity dropped about 50% from the fourth quarter, according to CBRE‘s Q1 market report.
With office leasing lagging in the market and MAG Partners set to deliver a glut of new space, the developer explored measures to boost the project’s attractiveness to more tenants.
Those measures include offering short-term leases, designing a pre-built office pilot program, and potentially converting office to lab space in the wake of the plummeting demand for office space.
“It’s been slow, but the world is coming back, and we think … that hybrid work is here to stay,” Gilmartin said.
Space in Rye Street Market that may end up pre-built offices or even lab space.
MAG Partners has identified pre-built office space — a concept where the landlord builds out, partitions, carpets and readies the space for occupancy — as a sector with the potential to attract tenants amid the Baltimore office market’s struggles.
She said Baltimore’s office market comprises about 14M SF of Class-A and Class-B space. However, she estimated only 10K SF of pre-built product is available in Baltimore.
MAG Partners plans to offer roughly 6K SF of pre-built office space in its Rye Street Market building, featuring designed units between 1,800 SF and 2,700 SF.
“I’m doing it as a pilot that I think is going to be very popular,” Gilmartin said.
MAG Partners also plans to offer tenants short-term leases of two to three years. Generally, the shortest lease offered on office space is five years, with 10-year leases the most common deals.
“The world is still evolving in the post-Covid condition,” she said. “We’re offering short-term leases, we are building out the space, which capital is precious today. So, the idea that a company not in the real estate business doesn’t have to get into the business of building their own space is also an enormous benefit.”
Most innovative approaches to boosting office leasing are confined to the Rye Street Market building, which landed Baltimore Peninsula’s first office lease when interior design and architecture firm Chambers signed a 10-year lease for roughly 9K SF of the building’s 228K SF of office space in September.
Robert Hickman, Chambers’ board chairman, said the development team’s vision for Rye Street Market as a home for smaller and emerging businesses fits well with the firm’s goals.
Chambers Chairman of the Board Robert Hinkman stands outside his firm’s office at Rye Street Market.
“We don’t want to be a huge company. We want to be a niche company,” Hickman said.
Given the demand for lab space in Baltimore, Gilmartin said the development team is also “experimenting” with turning office space at Rye Street Market into lab space. However, she said, that doesn’t mean converting the building to wet lab space that requires substantial infrastructure investment.
“It could be places for scientists and researchers to get together where they’re trying new technologies and innovations in the life science, space or bioscience space,” she said. “But we have the building here, and we’ve done the research, and we believe that we should dedicate a portion of this building to lab space.”
MAG Partners still needs to decide what the next construction phase will include once it has fully delivered Chapter 1B and various infrastructure and park projects by the end of this year.
Gilmartin said one possibility is to build a large public venue that attracts enough people to justify building a hotel and conference center on the property.
“This idea of there being a large-scale entertainment venue available here, whether it’s sports, culture, entertainment, we have inbounds that suggest that if we thought we’d pull it off, meaning that we could have a meeting of the minds, we could build a large-scale venue,” Gilmartin said.
Five Questions With: MaryAnne Gilmartin Founder & CEO, MAG Partners
By: John Jordan
When Real Estate In-Depth pondered who would be the candidate for the Five Questions feature for Women’s Month, the logical choice was MaryAnne Gilmartin.
Her background in real estate as she tells it almost began by happenstance, but her hard work has led her to found her own New York City-based real estate development firm—MAG Partners—in 2020 that in a short time has built a $1-billion pipeline.
The Fordham University graduate (undergraduate and graduate degree) began her career with the New York City Public Development Agency (the predecessor to the New York City Economic Development Corp.) and since then has held chief executive positions with some of the country’s leading development firms, including Forest City Ratner and Mack-Cali Realty Corp. She has overseen a host of high-profile projects and has been frank about who has guided her and now pays it forward and mentors others in their real estate careers.
Gilmartin, who serves as a special advisor to Fordham Real Estate Institute’s Executive Advisory Council, recently said at a “She Builds” session held at the university’s Lincoln Center campus, “I’ve built my career trying to bump up against what people think of as a developer and identify more with ‘placemaker.’ If I use the word ‘developer,’ I refer to myself as a ‘civic developer’ because what we do is contribute to civic life and with that comes a great responsibility. I’d love the word developer to mean all that I know that it is, which is a person who creates place, changes the skyline and the ground plane in cities, and builds something of lasting quality that impacts the lives of the community in which it exists.”
Gilmartin served as President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, where she oversaw a host of game-changing ground-up developments and managed its multimillion square foot residential, commercial and retail portfolio. She also served as Chair of the Board of Directors and interim Chief Executive Officer of Mack-Cali Realty Corporation.
In her tenure at Forest City Ratner Companies, she spearheaded the development of some of the most high-profile real estate projects in New York City. She led the efforts to build Barclays Center, the state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue and the centerpiece of the $4.9 billion, 22-acre mixed-use Pacific Park Brooklyn development.
She also oversaw the development of The New York Times Building, designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano; New York by Gehry, designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry; and the Tata Innovation Center at Cornell Tech, a new office building that is a first-of-its-kind space for tech innovation, designed by Weiss/Manfredi on Roosevelt Island. During her tenure at Forest City, the firm also developed Ridge Hill in Yonkers.
Today, MAG Partners is developing a number of distinctive projects, including 281 West 28th Street, a mixed-income residential building designed by COOKFOX that will begin leasing in early 2023. In addition, the company is developing two other residential buildings and a boutique office building in Hudson Square. In partnership with Sagamore Ventures, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and MacFarlane Partners, MAG Partners is leading the development of Baltimore Peninsula, a 235-acre masterplan in Baltimore, MD. In 2023, 1.1 million square feet of office, retail and residential development will open on a prime waterfront location.
Gilmartin is a civic leader in the New York metropolitan area, serving as Chair Emeritus of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a member of the Board of Trustees of The Brooklyn Academy of Music, a member of the New York Public Radio Board of Trustees, and a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Governors of The Real Estate Board of New York. At Columbia University, she is part of the Industry Advisory Board of the MS Real Estate Development Program as well as a member of the real estate advisory board in the Center for AI in Business Analytics & FinTech. In addition to her civic and industry board service, she was appointed a member of the board of directors of the global investment banking firm Jefferies Group LLC in 2014.
Real Estate In-Depth: Your background in real estate is very impressive, rising to president and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, serving as chairman and interim CEO of Mack-Cali Realty during a tense shareholder battle and founding your own real estate development company MAG Partners three years ago. Can you tell us what led you into the industry and what have been your keys to success in what has been a male-dominated industry?
Gilmartin: I call myself an accidental developer because this career path relied on serendipity. I had no inkling of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but coming out of university, I landed an Urban Fellow fellowship. I was assigned to New York City’s Public Development Agency, which is now the Economic Development Corporation. My plan was to spend a summer with them, and then go off to law school in September and fight for the rights of juveniles in the justice system.
At the Public Development Agency, I discovered that I had real estate development in my veins. At the time, leadership at PDC would challenge the team by saying, “Let’s look at the West Side, what should we do with it?” It was an incredible place to start a career and my path to meeting Bruce Ratner with whom I would work for the next 25 years.
My career grew in a meritocracy. Bruce always chose the best man or the best woman for the job. So, I always made sure to know the most, be the most prepared and worked the hardest. I never had my eye on the corner office, but it turns out, in a meritocracy, if you prove yourself, you can get the top job.
After serving as CEO at Forest City Ratner, I set out to build a company that looks a little more like the community for which we build, MAG Partners. This of course is a very simple statement, but I clearly have been a little bit of an anomaly in the business in a way that I wish I wasn’t.
Real Estate In-Depth: Were there people who were your mentors and/or helped you along the way in your career. If so, please explain?
Gilmartin: Mentoring has played an outsized role in my professional evolution. The role of mentor or mentee is critical to the career development of the women in our field, and I take my own responsibility seriously when I meet young women who want to get into the industry. My two most influential mentors have been Bruce Ratner and Mary Ann Tighe (CBRE). With both in my corner, I hit the career lottery. Because of the profound impact mentoring has had on my career, I have vowed to always be a mentor to others in order to pay it forward.
Real Estate In-Depth: What would you say were the obstacles you faced and women still must overcome in the commercial development arena and what advice do you have for women in commercial real estate?
Gilmartin: While I have said many times before that I never got that email that said, “you’re a woman so you should feel really intimidated” in this industry. But again, that is because I was part of a meritocracy and it was always the best man or woman for the job with Bruce Ratner. My advice is to be the most prepared and to not be afraid to show off your stuff.
Real Estate In-Depth: You recently began leasing MAG Partners’ first project—Ruby—a 480-unit residential project at 243 West 28th St. in Chelsea. In a short time, MAG Partners has built an impressive pipeline with projects planned at 335 Eighth Avenue, 300 East 50th St.; 122 Varick St. in the Hudson Square District; 44-02 Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City, as well as MAG Partners’ participation in the 1.1-million-square-foot Baltimore Peninsula Project. From what I understand, all of your New York City projects qualified for the now expired 421a tax incentive. Will the lack of 421a inhibit development in New York City in years to come if not reinstated in some form?
Gilmartin: Absolutely. But in the more near term, we are extremely focused on an extension to the deadline to complete these projects, something Governor Hochul put forward in her budget. This deadline is not just important to my company and the projects we have moving—the danger of missing the 2026 deadline is putting 33,000+ units in jeopardy of not moving forward. With the current challenges in the markets, it is critical that the legislature extend the deadline for vested projects.
Real Estate In-Depth: Does MAG Partners have any plans to enter other markets in the New York City metro area, specifically the lower Hudson Valley?
Gilmartin: The great thing about being a private company is that we can be opportunistic. We want to be rational and strategic, and we are not confined to New York City.
How New York Developer MaryAnne Gilmartin Built a Career on Embracing the Complicated
By: Andria Cheng
Her MAG Partners Begins Leasing Ruby Residential Tower in Manhattan’s Garment District
MaryAnne Gilmartin, who founded MAG Partners in 2020, is known for projects including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and the New York Times Building in Manhattan. (MAG Partners)
The older man on the other side of the chain link fence had a shotgun and two pitbulls. MaryAnne Gilmartin, then just 22, was armed with little more than a receptive attitude.
When the dust eventually settled after that on-site meeting, she had successfully dealt with his refusal to leave the land he occupied, helping to clear the way for a project New York City sought to build. Three decades later Gilmartin, now founder and chief executive of New York real estate developer MAG Partners, would be the first to tell you her embrace of projects with complicated issues has ended up serving her well.
Gilmartin’s career has gone from that first assignment involving a vehicle towing yard to include work on buildings such as Barclays Center in Brooklyn, reflecting what she called in an interview a “tendency to lean into projects that have hair on it [and] may require a little more heavy lifting.” She’s expanded her philosophy to include “pursuing opportunities that others may not want.”
The recent kickoff of leasing at Ruby, a two-tower, 480-unit luxury residential rental development that’s 30% affordable, is the latest example of chasing projects that others might turn down. It’s MAG’s first New York development to debut since Gilmartin founded the firm during the pandemic in 2020 after buying out her partners.
The midblock property, located at 243 W. 28th St. between Seventh and Eighth avenues across from the Fashion Institute of Technology in the Garment District, is housed on a former parking lot owned by Edison Properties. Ruby is the fruit of what Gilmartin described as “far from a typical real estate transaction.”
After developers failed to buy the land from Edison, Gilmartin eventually was able to structure a 99-year ground-lease deal that led to the project named after Ruby Bailey, 20th-century fashion pioneer who lived in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
There was “a lot of handholding,” she told CoStar News. The deal had “a lot of hair and complicated issues.”
Some of the complications involved convincing MAG’s capital partners to proceed with funding construction during the pandemic when lenders didn’t want to back projects in New York, she said.
“The building became a referendum of sorts,” she said at a real estate event this month hosted by Fordham University, her alma mater. “It’s a bet on New York City.”
Gilmartin is no stranger to tackling projects that may have deterred others. She became what she described as an “accidental developer” in the ’80s after graduating from Fordham, and that led to her involvement with a lot of different projects across the city through the Urban Fellows Program.
“It was there that I realized I had real estate in my veins,” she said at the Fordham talk. “It was fortuitous. It wasn’t at all part of my plan.”
When her first Urban Fellows assignment involved the towing site at an industrial park in Queens, she said a stumbling block emerged over the 82-year-old squatter. Gilmartin decided to hop on the train to go visit him, against the advice of others.
“I know nothing about the business,” she said. “All I know is this is a person who has a set of facts and beliefs and preferences and desires. I need to understand what they are. … I literally stood on the other side of the chain link fence and talked to this very disturbed older man. … Real estate is a collection of stories about the human condition.”
Her visit paid off and paved the way for the man transitioning to special housing, clearing the site for the towing facility.
After about seven years working in public service and a two-year stint as a broker, which made her realize “being a middleman is just not in my makeup,” she went to Forest City Ratner and ended up spending 23 years there, including as president and chief executive before the firm was sold to Brookfield Asset Management in 2018.
Making Her Way
Gilmartin, a New York native, grew up in both Rockaway Beach in Queens and in Woodstock, New York, a two-hour drive north of the city. She credits her can-do attitude in part to something her mom said despite growing up in what she described as a “dysfunctional childhood.”
“My mom said, ‘You make your own way. You make your own happiness,’” Gilmartin said.
On the career front, Bruce Ratner, who co-founded Forest City Ratner in 1985 and was its CEO before eventually passing his baton to Gilmartin in 2013, was a big influence.
“I was part of the meritocracy,” Gilmartin said. “Bruce Ratner had my back. We had the confidence we belonged at the table. He said, ‘If you can dream it and can defend it,’ we usually got approval to do it. … Know your wheelhouse. You can’t fake it. If you are substantive in this business, amazing business can happen.”
One of those pieces of businesses involved MAG’s first foray outside New York, partnering with Under Armour founder Kevin Plank as well as Goldman Sachs to oversee Baltimore Peninsula, a 235-acre mixed-use development in Baltimore. Some 1.1 million square feet of office, retail and residential is opening this year on a prime waterfront location as part of the project with 13 million more square feet left to be developed.
Loves New York
“My first love is New York City,” Gilmartin told CoStar News. But within a day’s commute, “between Boston and D.C., we see opportunities. … Land demand and ground-up opportunities are much more amenable” than in New York.
A case in point of how it’s “tough” getting things done in New York, she said, involves the June 2022 expiration of the 421-a tax exemption program that gave developers tax breaks on multifamily developments in exchange for a portion of units being set aside for affordable housing. Without the support of New York state legislators, the program, which Gilmartin calls essential for business, remains dead despite backing from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, she said.
“I’m a little jaded because of that,” she said at the Fordham event. “It’s nice to go to Baltimore. The answer in Baltimore isn’t ‘no.’ The answer is ‘yes.’ In New York, the answer is ‘no’ first. The city has to grow. … If there’s no tax-exemption program, we will have a homogeneous collection of condos that are highly unaffordable for people in the city. There’s a chilling effect” on multifamily development.
Ruby and two other Manhattan residential projects MAG has underway — 335 Eighth Ave., a 190-unit mixed-income apartment building, and 300 E. 50th Street, a 194-unit property on the east side — all qualify under the expired 421-a program, Gilmartin told CoStar.
“This isn’t a windfall for developers,” she told CoStar. “I would like to build more. Multifamily is still the darling asset class in New York. It’s difficult to imagine more projects” without the tax-exemption program.
As New York’s office vacancy rate has surged to new record highs, Gilmartin isn’t calling it quits on the sector. MAG is developing a 175,000-square-foot boutique office at 122 Varick St. in the Hudson Square neighborhood, where both Google and Disney are building major campuses.
“This is a bespoke offering. There’ll continue to be a flight to quality,” she said, adding that it will reflect “the post-pandemic world of how we want to work.”