OXON HILL – Although there wasn’t a shovel in sight, Prince George’s County and state officials officially broke ground for a resort hotel at National Harbor, the largest planned development in the history of the county.
Several politicians, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, along with the site developer’s president each “detonated” gold mock-TNT boxes that sent confetti flying through the reception tent and fireworks shooting to the skies.
When National Harbor’s 300 acres is completely developed, shops, restaurants, parks and entertainment facilities will line the Potomac River. The first phase of the project is Gaylord Entertainment’s Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the biggest development in the United States outside of Las Vegas, according to Colin Reed, Gaylord Entertainment president and chief executive.
The hotel and conference center will be developed by the Peterson Companies.
The project has great significance for Prince George’s County, said Johnson.
“It will be an economic engine,” said Johnson. “And it will transform the way people from all over the world visit our nation’s capital.”
Some have said National Harbor is a prime location for slots. There have already been discussions about bringing slots to Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill, after family members of Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos reached an agreement to purchase it.
Ehrlich said he did not want to speculate on the possibility of having slots at National Harbor.
“You can certainly make the case for it,” said Ehrlich, who has spearheaded efforts to expand the state’s gambling laws to allow slot machines.
Bringing slots to the development is a “detail-oriented” venue question that is not worth talking about until the slots issued is settled, according to the governor.
“If the speaker won’t cross the threshold and get this done in the short-term, which could be accomplished by the way, all the other details are quite frankly a waste of time,” said Ehrlich.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has blocked various plans to put slot machines in the state. In September, a plan to add a referendum on slots to the November ballot fell apart when the state’s top leaders could not agree on terms.
With or without slots, National Harbor is expected to be an economic generator for the county.
The hotel will generate an estimated 1,850 permanent jobs, more than 1,000 construction jobs and $142 million in construction and construction-related income, said Reed.
“You have my commitment that we will hire locally to the fullest extent possible,” said Reed.
It is also estimated that the total net fiscal impact of the hotel on Prince George’s County from its opening in 2008 through 2037 is $350 million, said Reed.
The $565 million hotel project will have 1,500 guest rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting space, more than double that of Washington’s largest hotel, according to Reed.
Much of the credit for the project was given to Milt Peterson, Peterson Companies’ president, who received a standing ovation from the standing-room only crowd. The vision for National Harbor was presented by Peterson seven years ago, and he said it could only be accomplished with a true partnership among the land owners, citizens and elected officials.
“I’m here to tell you that you have just been fantastic,” said Peterson.
Peterson also helped the project move forward by making compromises with the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, a group that has sued to stop National Harbor over environmental concerns, according to The Sun of Baltimore.
Peterson agreed to push for Metro service at National Harbor and to provide public access to the shoreline, among other compromises, according to The Sun.
The ceremony was more than just a groundbreaking for a building, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland.
“We’re breaking ground for a new attitude towards Prince George’s County,” said Mikulski.
The building of the hotel is historical for the county, said Johnson.
“Today we are rewriting history . . . and securing a strong economic future for all generations,” said Johnson. “With National Harbor, the possibilities are just endless.”
National Harbor is Maryland’s latest “jewel,” said Ehrlich.
“This is a big-time, beautiful project,” said Ehrlich. “So much good is happening in Prince George’s County.”