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Singer Pharrell Williams joins Baltimore Arena project as budget jumps to $200M

A rendering for the new Baltimore Arena. (Submitted Photo/Oak View Group)

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say: The development team behind the renovation of Baltimore Arena — formerly Royal Farms Arena — announced Thursday that Pharrell Williams is joining the project. 

At a groundbreaking ceremony held at the arena on Thursday afternoon, Mayor Brandon Scott said that he and the “Happy” singer had previously connected several months ago, when they had discussed bringing a music festival to Baltimore. The project didn’t pan out, but Williams had told the mayor that he was committed to doing “something big in Baltimore” in the future. 

“He is a man of his word, and today I just want to give him a round of applause and say thank you,” Scott said at the event. 

Williams wasn’t present at the groundbreaking, but, in a press release by the project’s developer, Oak View Group, he said, “This city has so much to offer through its growing music scene, entertainment, and sports, and it’s clear the time is right for Baltimore Arena to breathe new life into the region. I believe in this region, this project, and I’m thrilled to invest in its future.” 

The price tag on the project has also increased from the previously announced $150 million to approximately $200 million, which is being privately funded by OVG, Thirty Five Ventures, an investment firm co-founded by Prince George’s County-raised basketball star Kevin Durant, and Fundamental Advisors, an alternative asset management firm based in New York.  

The group will subsequently lease the building from the city through an entity called Baltimore Arena Co., with an initial lease term of 30 years. 

“We will not chintz here,” OVG CEO Tim Leiweke said. “We are ultimately committed to making sure we build a building that becomes the heart and the soul of downtown Baltimore, and it becomes, again, a point of destination for the entire region.” 

Speaking to reporters ahead of the ceremony, Leiweke said he believes the arena could become a top 25 music and performance venue upon opening and teased that the development team will soon announce the first major performer the arena will host upon reopening next year. 

The arena renovation, which was first announced last June, will include adding seats and suites, updating the concessions areas, refurbishing concourses, adding new sustainability features and more. The venue will also most likely get a new name, having dropped “Royal Farms” from its title in March. 

The project is still slated to be completed in less than a year, in time for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association to hold its 2023 tournament in the space next February. The tight schedule was a point of consternation for city government, with City Council President Nick Mosby voting against the city’s contract with OVG and, later, writing a letter to Scott questioning if the company would be able to finish construction in time for the tournament. 

Leiweke joked about the fast-paced timeline at the groundbreaking. 

“They asked me, ‘do you want to stop the construction while you’re doing the presentation?’ I say ‘hell no. We’ve got a schedule to hit. The mayor’s going to kill me. The CIAA is going to kill me,’ ” he said.  

“Keep working,” he called out into the arena, where construction was ongoing. “Thank you.”