Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour and impresario of current Baltimore waterfront development, sealed the deal in August when the city Board of Estimates granted Harbor Boating Inc. continued exclusive rights to city docks and wharves. Harbor Boating, which has had a monopoly on water taxi service since 2010, has come under the ownership of Plank’s development firm, Sagamore Ventures Inc.
It’s the latest evidence that the Baltimore waterfront is Kevin Plank territory. Other Plank marquee projects in the harbor include the $5.5 billion Port Covington mixed-use development and the $60 million conversion of the Fells Point Recreation Pier into a luxury 128-room hotel.
Harbor Boating president Michael McDaniel, who has been with the company since 2010, will remain with the firm along with the other employees. The growing number of Baltimoreans living near the water is fueling greater demand for a way to move around the harbor without getting in a car or on a bicycle.
McDaniel said he sees revenue growth in meeting that demand. In the initial years of the expansion, ticket sales are expected to garner between $3 million and $4 million as ridership (currently 300,000 to 400,000 a year) increases.
The core of the project is more stops, more boats, bigger boats and longer service hours. The iconic fleet of blue-awninged taxis will be replaced by sleek, energy-efficient cruisers that could carry up to 50 passengers. The new boats will be more weatherproof, opening up new options for cold weather service. The first of the new fleet, built by Baltimore’s Maritime Applied Physics, was launched this fall.
Harbor Boating is also researching the possibility of running smaller boats holding about a dozen people that could be summoned using Uber.
Baltimore’s water taxi service has a size and reputation unrivaled in the nation, McDaniel said. Its origins go back to the 1970s when then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer sought to complement the Inner Harbor redevelopment project with a water taxi service. Schaefer approached Ed Kane, who was renting paddleboats from a dock where the National Aquarium is today. “Get something on the water,” Schaefer reportedly told him. The rest is history.