Monday, April 17, 2006


National Harbor To Get More Hotels, Condos, And Timeshare Units

Developer Milton V. Peterson revved the engine of his silver Mercedes through the thick red mud and gravel of his $2 billion National Harbor project on the banks of the Potomac River in Prince George's County.

"Some view, huh?" Peterson said, as he extricated the car from the muck of the construction site. He pointed from a hillside of sycamore and cherry trees down to the sun sparkling on the water with the District and Alexandria skylines in the background.

After 11 years of planning and design for the largest economic development project ever in Prince George's, the first phase of National Harbor -- 4 million square feet of hotels, restaurants, retail stores and timeshare condominiums -- is under construction.

Today, Peterson, accompanied by County Executive Jack B. Johnson, plans to announce that five major hotel chains will open properties at National Harbor, in addition to the 2,000-room hotel and convention center that is already being built by Gaylord Hotels.

Peterson said the additional hotels and timeshares being announced today will include a Hampton Inn, a Residence Inn by Marriott, a 195-room Westin, a boutique hotel called Aloft run by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., and a 246-unit Fairfield Resorts timeshare property. They will bring the total number of hotel rooms at the 350-acre complex to just under 3,000.

"We want to draw the tourist, the conventioneer and the business traveler," Peterson said as he showed off the mounds of dirt, cranes and bulldozers on the site where the hotels will go. "We want to give each of those kinds of travelers something more than a bed, a bureau and a bathroom, as in a timeshare."

That prospect is causing increasing concern in the District's hospitality industry, which is already starting to feel the effects of a new, nearby competitor in Peterson's project.

Over the past three decades, Peterson, 70, has built some of the largest timeshare developments in the Washington area, including Fair Lakes and Fairfax Corner in Northern Virginia and the Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. He also played a major role in the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring.

The state and county have provided more than $300 million for roadway interchanges and infrastructure near the National Harbor project, just south of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Peterson designed it after seeing Las Ramblas, a popular street in central Barcelona.

"I just fell in love with the feeling of Las Ramblas because it was so active and it has a center plaza," Peterson said as he showed off a 12-by-10-foot model of the project, which about 30 consultants are helping him design and build.

The model in the lobby of an office he rents on Oxon Hill Road, overlooking the project, is complete with little people walking along wide sidewalks and sitting at outdoor cafes, a maritime museum, water taxis docking at piers, condominiums with balconies, the large atrium at the Gaylord hotel, and trees that he wants to line the main avenue.

"We'll have that with kiosks where you can buy something to eat, and we'll have art shows and entertainment," Peterson said as he fussed with the miniature trees. "We're creating a city" -- a city that will compete directly with the District for hotel guests and business meetings.

Gaylord, which expects to open its hotel in March 2008, already has booked almost 600,000 room nights -- the total number of rooms booked, multiplied by the number of nights they are reserved -- Peterson said. Many groups that hold large-scale meetings book hotel rooms and convention space years in advance. Gaylord owns complexes at Opryland in Nashville, near Disney World in Kissimmee, Fla., and at the Lake Grapevine resort in Texas.

The District's largest hotel, the 1,300-room Marriott Wardman Park on Connecticut Avenue NW, has lost three events to the Gaylord -- two military-related shows and a major computer software company's meeting, according to Ed Rudzinski, the general manager at the Wardman Park. He said losing the three annual shows cost him $6 million a year in room revenue, food and beverages, and banquets.

"They're not to be taken lightly," said Joe Stern, sales director for the Grand Hyatt Washington, referring to National Harbor. The National Harbor has not had any "dramatic effect" on his hotel at this point, he said. But, as its opening gets closer, he expects to compete with the Gaylord hotel for shows that need 1,000 to 2,000 rooms. "Every dollar lost to Prince George's can be directly linked to lost tax revenue to the city," Stern said.

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