Shortly before, Peterson contends, he was approached by Cordish, who offered to drop his opposition to a new casino with one key condition: Cordish be allowed to operate it.
Asked about that a few days after he sat down for a lengthy interview, Cordish responded tersely by e-mail: “UNTRUE.”
Whatever the case, Peterson announced last month that, if given favorable consideration by the legislature, National Harbor would partner with MGM to build an $800 million facility with a hotel, nightclub, spa and other upscale amenities.
Why not go with Cordish? “They are a fine company, they do good work, but I want a destination,” Peterson said. “There’s a difference between that and a slots barn.”
National Harbor is the crown jewel for the Fairfax-based Peterson Cos., which has been the driving force behind numerous office, retail and residential projects in the Washington area since its founding by Peterson close to 40 years ago.
In addition to National Harbor, the company’s portfolio includes Downtown Silver Spring, the 440,000-square-foot collection of shops and restaurants that has revitalized a swath of Montgomery County. Peterson also builds commercial and government office buildings.
Cordish’s company has its headquarters in downtown Baltimore, in the Power Plant building at the Inner Harbor. The building itself, a repurposed industrial structure, is a testament to the kind of urban revitalization and creation of entertainment districts for which he is known.
The mementos in Cordish’s crowded corner office reflect his company’s national reach. There’s a red seat from the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis signed by several star Cardinals players. The company is currently developing an ambitious entertainment complex next to the team’s new venue.
Cordish also has an electric guitar emblazoned with the Maryland Live! logo. That’s a recent gift from the Seminole tribe, for whom his company built — and, for a short time, operated — a pair of Hard Rock casinos in Florida.
Gambling was not part of Peterson’s original plan for National Harbor. But he has made several adjustments to his vision since the development opened in 2008, just as the economy grew rocky.
Anchored by Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the waterfront property boasts five other hotels, more than two dozen restaurants, close to 50 stores, condominium and time-share units, and an eclectic collection of public art.
Given its accessibility to the District and Virginia, analysts have long said National Harbor could be one of the most lucrative gambling sites in the country.