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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

At Maryland's National Harbor, MGM Resorts wants to fit in — and stand out

8 June 2014

OXON HILL, Md. -- It was an easy sale for Jon Peterson to convince tenants of National Harbor that a $925 million hotel, casino and entertainment complex would be good for the 6-year-old multiuse development.

All he needed was the development plan provided by MGM Resorts International, he said.

“What MGM is bringing is not only complementary to what is already here, but it will create a destination attraction that will benefit all of our tenants,” said Peterson, whose family-owned Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., invested $280 million to develop National Harbor on the Potomac River about 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

The project is close enough to Capitol Hill that the Washington Monument can be seen in the distance.

The 150-acre site, once a rock and gravel quarry, has five hotels, more than three dozen shops, office buildings, 30 bars, restaurants and food outlets, and 600 town houses and condominiums. About 5,000 people work there.

Water taxis ferry visitors to and from the National Mall, historical Alexandria, Va., Georgetown and to Washington Nationals baseball games.

The MGM National Harbor will cover 23 acres off Interstate 95, north of the main National Harbor complex. The project, slated to break ground this summer, will include a 300-room hotel tower, a 135,000-square-foot casino, retail offerings, a spa, seven restaurants, a 1,200-seat theater, 35,000 square feet of meeting space and a 5,000-square-foot parking garage.

The key, Peterson said, is the building’s design. Many guest rooms will have a view of Washington, D.C.

It won’t be the biggest hotel in the National Harbor complex. The Gaylord National, which operates a 486,000-square-foot convention center, has 2,000 rooms. Westin, Residence by Marriott, Hampton Inn and Aloft — offer a total of 1,000 rooms.

“We’re excited about having MGM and the attractions they will bring with their venue,” Gaylord public relations manager Rachel Dinbokowitz said. “It offers more entertainment options for our guests. We don’t see it as competition.”

If anything, Peterson said, MGM will enhance the Gaylord’s “desirability” as a convention location.

MGM National Harbor President Lorenzo Creighton acknowledged that MGM Resorts usually has the largest hotel around, but said the company hopes to grow the National Harbor market by offering something new and complementary.

“It’s the location. I don’t think we as a company would have become involved in Maryland without this location,” Creighton said.

“I think the project clearly puts focus on National Harbor and creates tremendous growth opportunity,” Creighton added. “We have developed a good relationship with the other hotels. There is good synergy. We’re going to bring a lot more bodies to the Harbor.”

National Harbor attracts 8 million to 10 million visitors a year.

A $1 billion state and federal project rebuilt the highway infrastructure leading in and out of National Harbor from Washington, Virginia and into Maryland, creating interchanges between two interstate highways and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that connects with Alexandria.

“The ingress and egress to and from the site is phenomenal,” Creighton said.

Peterson said the hotel-casino is part of the “triple crown” National Harbor is adding.

In 2013, the company opened a nearby 85-store outlet mall. On Memorial Day weekend, it unveiled the $15 million Capital Wheel, a 180-foot-tall Ferris wheel with 42 air-conditioned gondolas that can accommodate 332 people.

Peterson said an apartment complex is planned, but developers will wait until MGM National Harbor opens to decide what will come next.