The loss hits home just as the development, majority-owned by the Peterson Cos., was recovering some positive buzz. It got off to a slow start in 2008, running immediately into a severe economic downturn.
“We are disappointed,” Jon Peterson, senior vice president of the Peterson Cos., said Friday. But he added that “there was always a little bit of uncertainty” over whether Disney would follow through after the company bought the land.
Prince George’s and the Peterson Cos. had ballyhooed Disney’s May 2009 purchase of 11 acres for $11 million as a validation of their vision for the 300-acre site.
The county, which borders the District on the east, is home to many prosperous African Americans and to the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field. But unlike neighboring Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, it has struggled to draw the big-name national businesses that often contribute to robust tax bases.
That is why National Harbor, in southern Prince George’s, has become so important. If its 8 million square feet of residential, office, retail and hotel space are fully developed, the venture could generate $100 million or more a year in tax revenue, Peterson said.
But the harbor has had mixed success in persuading national retailers to open stores there and has faced some head winds in encouraging families to buy condominium units there. It is not readily accessible by Metro or by car from Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland. With only one-third of the development completed, about $2.2 billion has been spent.
County officials and the Peterson Cos. had staked a lot on the Disney project.
Chairman Milton V. Peterson, who has invested hundreds of millions on National Harbor, wooed Disney for several years and hosted Disney’s chief executive, Robert A. Iger, on a visit to the site.
Disney’s parcel sits on a rise at the top of a tree-lined promenade named American Way. It looks north toward the District and overlooks the National Harbor complex and the Potomac.
The Peterson Cos. is in discussions to repurchase the Disney parcel and reincorporate it into the developer’s long-term strategic plan for National Harbor.
Despite his disappointment at Disney’s pulling out, Peterson said, “We will take this in stride and move on to other opportunities. . . . We have the flexibility to change uses overnight.”
Emphasis on growth
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has made drawing businesses to Prince George’s his top priority in his first year in office. Baker successfully lobbied the County Council to create a $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund for his administration to provide lucrative incentives to companies that consider relocating to or opening operations in Prince George’s.