Sagamore Development CEO Marc Weller (left) and designer Dean Brown. Courtesy Sagamore Development/Maroon PR.
Sagamore Development CEO Marc Weller (left) and designer Dean Brown. Courtesy Sagamore Development/Maroon PR.

The Cleat, it is. A nautically inspired entry by South Baltimore resident Dean Brown was selected as the winner of a national competition held to find the “Next Great Baltimore Bench” for Port Covington.

Sagamore Development Co., Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s real estate arm, and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts announced yesterday that Brown was selected over two other finalists as the winner of the competition, which was launched earlier this year.

"The Cleat" bench, by Dean Brown
“The Cleat” bench, by Dean Brown

Brown, a 25-year-old designer with the Baltimore firm Design Collective, proposed a wood and metal bench shaped like the cleats on a sailboat, blown up to a larger scale. Called “The Cleat,” his design played off Baltimore’s heritage as a seaport and Sagamore’s efforts to rejuvenate a 260-acre section of the South Baltimore waterfront.

“As we move forward with this one-of-a-kind opportunity to transform Port Covington into a thriving, active and inclusive neighborhood, we’re looking every day to foster relationships with local artists, designers and craftsmen who capture the spirit of this great city,” said Marc Weller, president of Sagamore Development. “Dean Brown’s proposal not only reminds us of the city’s great maritime history, but provides yet another example of how talented the citizens of Baltimore are.”

“Dean’s design creatively references the important role the waterfront has played in Baltimore’s history and its future, which is relevant and appropriate,” added Bill Gilmore, BOPA’s executive director.

The competition drew 18 entries, which were narrowed down to three finalists who were asked to create prototypes. A nine-member jury selected the winner. Brown’s design was selected over bench proposals called “The Riga,” by Samantha Polinak of Polinak Designs, and “The Stoop” by Gutierrez Studios.

Brown, who met with Weller earlier this week, said he was thankful to Sagamore and BOPA for holding a competition that was open to all, providing a “unique opportunity for young local designers.” Many design competitions, by contrast, are limited to an invited list of established designers.

“When I first heard about the competition, I felt compelled to create a bench that would truly represent our city’s bright future,” Brown said. “I am excited to see Sagamore Development’s plans for Port Covington come to life, and feel grateful and privileged to play a part in that process.”

The competition was billed as a “call for ideas” and Sagamore and BOPA said they were making no commitment “to produce or develop any design or proposal received.”

Yesterday, Sagamore officials indicated that they have every intention of moving ahead with benches based on Brown’s design.

At a meeting of Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, Sagamore vice president Caroline Paff named Brown as the newest member of Sagamore’s design team. She told the panel that Brown has developed “an entire family of these benches — longer, wider” to fit on various sites around Port Covington, including many along the water’s edge.

The nine-member jury that chose the winner included: Betsy Boykin of Core Studio Design; Ryan Patterson of BOPA; Ronnie Younts of Younts Design Inc.; Marcus Stephens of Sagamore Creative; Patrick Sutton of Patrick Sutton Interior Design; Kuo Pao Lian of PI.KL Studio; Elford Jackson of RK&K Engineers; Diana Kolnik, a resident in the nearby Westport neighborhood; and Paff.

In their announcement of the winner, Sagamore and BOPA spelled out what appealed to the jury.

“Brown’s Cleat Bench offers the attractiveness and warmth of wood in the simple shape of a boat cleat, making the benches a perfect fit within the landscape,” the statement said. “The nautical representation, matched with the bench’s simple geometry, allows the waterfront character of the site to be carried throughout the whole neighborhood.”

To build the prototype bench, Brown worked with two local businesses, Ludwig Design and OE Custom.

Ludwig Design, founded by Matt Ludwig in Druid Hill, fabricates and installs custom architectural metalwork, furniture and concrete. OE Custom, founded in 2004 in Baltimore County, specializes in custom renovations, upgrades, accents, makeovers and complete design-and-build fabrication using solid wood products.

OE Custom gets its lumber from the urban forest in and around the Baltimore region, working with local tree companies, governments and land owners to make use of trees that might otherwise end up in a dump.

“The team…that built the bench was absolutely great,” Brown said. “Their knowledge, craftsmanship, and attention to detail was exceptional throughout the process, and they truly exceeded my expectations.”

Gilmore said BOPA was thrilled to work with Sagamore on the competition. “Partnering to provide Baltimore artists with opportunities for unique commissions with high profile outcomes is part of BOPA’s commitment to the cultural community,” he said.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.