Builder of Opryland brings its act to P.G.

$560 million hotel, entertainment center to anchor new resort


January 12, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

OXON HILL -- Gaylord Entertainment, the company that built Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., is bringing its act to Prince George's County with a $560 million hotel-entertainment complex on the Potomac River just south of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

Fairfax, Va., developer Milton V. Peterson, along with Gaylord and state and county officials, announced the project -- Opryland Hotel Potomac -- at a media event staged yesterday under a circus-size tent at Oxon Hill Manor, a half-mile from the site.

The hotel is to be the anchor of National Harbor, a 534-acre resort planned at Eagle Cove. With 2,000 guest rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, the project would be larger than the Power Plant or the Brokerage in downtown Baltimore and the largest single commercial investment in the state.

The company is the first to commit to build on the site, touted as the economic development engine that will end racial redlining of this majority black county by upscale retailers.

"I've spent an entire lifetime waiting for a moment like this," said Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. "This will bring what all my constituents have been pleading and bleeding for -- upscale dining and elegant opportunities."

Along with Opryland, Gaylord owns Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand Ole Opry; WSM-AM, the radio station that broadcasts the show; two other radio stations; riverboat attractions and a Christian- music recording label.

It is building Opryland Hotels near Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and in Grapevine, Texas, near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

The Prince George's project, which will cover 40 acres and include a glass atrium that stretches over five acres, is expected to generate 2,000 jobs and $27.5 million in taxes for the state and county.

National Harbor, which is to wrap around the shoreline of Eagle Cove, is to have at least three resort hotels, an entertainment park, a marina, upscale retailing, office space and water taxis to shuttle visitors from one side of the cove to the other and across the Potomac to Alexandria's Old Towne and Reagan National Airport.

It has gained broad support among local residents and politicians.

The Prince George's Council has approved a conceptual plan for National Harbor and exempted the developers from normal review procedures that would have required the company to submit detailed plans for approval.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Reps. Steny Hoyer and Albert R. Wynn, Democrats who represent parts of Prince George's, much of the county's delegation to the General Assembly and its council were on hand for what was more celebration than announcement.

"Yes!" cried Dorothy Bailey, chairwoman of the County Council, drawing her right arm down in a gesture of jubilation. "Those of you here from Prince George's County, stand up. Say it with me. Yes!"

The announcement at the historic mansion overlooking the river took on the aura of a showboat production. Videos promoting Gaylord and the acts that play its halls filled a 12-by-18-foot screen on a stage large enough for a middle-level rock act while the music of country stars Garth Brooks and Shania Twain blared through large speakers as the crowd gathered.

A deep off-stage voice first introduced Anointed, a gospel group nominated for a Grammy award, to start the show and then Peterson, who bounded on stage to bring "greetings from Opryland Hotel Potomac" and later introduced Grammy-nominated country star Brad Paisley.

Fireworks erupted from the light rack over the stage as Peterson introduced David Jones and Terry London, presidents of two Gaylord companies, and Prince George's County and Maryland logos filled the screen, depending on which politician was speaking.

"This is going to be a state-of-the-art entertainment complex" that will bring jobs to Prince George's and make it "the place to be in the Washington area," Glendening said.

But not everyone is so excited by the prospect of an entertainment complex on the banks of the Potomac. Environmentalists fear that development so close to the water would damage the river by removing wetlands and forest buffers and create even greater traffic problems in an area with the second-worst congestion in the United States.

"The question that everyone should be asking is what impact the development will have on area traffic," said Joy Oakes of the Sierra Club. "This is going to be a car-dependent facility."

Oakes and others say they aren't opposed to economic development, just the project at National Harbor.

"We just have a different vision for this area," said Karen Egloff of the Friends of Oxon Hill. "With Smart Growth in mind, we should develop within the existing commercial centers, and there's one within a mile of this site -- downtown Oxon Hill."

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