Clarke pleased to see Fells Point Rec Pier moving on

After more than a decade of trying to develop the Fells Point Recreation Pier as a hotel, developer J. Joseph Clarke is glad to see Sagamore Development Co., the property’s new owner, moving on with a similar project.

Clarke has been involved in the project since 2002 and struggled to build a hotel at the site. But the development was beset with issues such as community opposition to eliminating a promenade around the pier and a faltering economy.

“I wish Sagamore the best. They’re doing the plan that we developed over 10 years ago to make it a hotel,” Clarke said. “The one thing they have been successful in doing, which we were never able to do, is to get the city to drop their insistence on the promenade, which was always not a good idea.”

On Wednesday the Board of Estimates approved the $3.4 million sale of the property to Sagamore Development Co., a development firm backed by Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour. The name of the company is a reference to the historic horse racing farm Plank owns in Glyndon. The company plans to build a 120-unit luxury hotel on the site.

The historic property, which dates back to about 1920, became one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks after serving as a stand-in for a police precinct in the 1990s NBC-TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

In 2010, Clarke’s Recreation Pier Developers LLC purchased the property from the city for $300,000 with the understanding the company would make $8.8 million in improvements. Clarke’s team made some improvements to the pier, and the state property tax assessments value the property at $2.2 million.

In 2013, H&S Properties, co-founded by Michael Beatty, became a partner in the project and began to talk with Plank about interest in the property. In February, it was disclosed that Sagamore Development Co., a partnership between Plank and Washington area developer Marc Weller, was interested in the property.

Clarke, who was not intimately involved in the details of the sale, said it became apparent that if the project was going to happen it required a developer like Plank who could self-finance the project, because banks wouldn’t make a loan to build a hotel at that site.

He said when the recession hit about six years ago the first category of real estate loans that went under was lodging. He said he was never able to get an offer with a loan-to-value ratio that was competitive, even in recent months.

“I think the community came to recognize that if this job was going to get done, it had to get done by a resource that did not depend on banks. The reason we couldn’t do the deal is because we couldn’t get a loan from a bank,” Clarke said.

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