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Gaylord-DreamWorks deal will bring Shrek, Kung Fu Panda to National Harbor

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NASHVILLE — Shrek; Po, the Kung Fu panda; and Alex, the lion from “Madagascar,” are checking into Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor this year.

Top officials from Gaylord Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation unveiled plans Wednesday to create an alliance at the company’s convention center hotels in Prince George’s County and in Texas, Florida and Tennessee.

“This is a unique marriage that will have unlimited potential,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of DreamWorks Animation, said after a news conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

The arrival of a host of characters at Gaylord National is expected to enhance the family experience envisioned by Milton Peterson, the developer of National Harbor, a still-expanding $4 billion complex of condominiums, hotels, stores and restaurants lining the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The National Children’s Museum, which has a new alliance with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street, will be coming to National Harbor in 2013. And Disney plans to build a hotel at the 300-acre development.

“There’s perhaps no other place where families can say hello to Shrek and Big Bird just a couple of hundred yards from one another,” said Steven B. Peterson, president of the Peterson Cos. “We can’t wait.”

Colin V. Reed, chairman and chief executive officer of Gaylord Entertainment, said the partnership will help Gaylord, a leader in the convention hotel industry, increase business during slower periods. The hotels rely heavily on group sales, but about 20 percent of the year many of them are empty, he said.

Gaylord is hoping to capitalize on some of those “soft times” — which occur during the summer and around holidays — by hosting breakfasts with the characters, Christmas events, poolside activities, parades and private birthday parties. The hotels will also sell DreamWorks merchandise.

“We will bring fantasy to life,” Reed said. “Kids will make connections with the characters.”

Gaylord National had an occupancy rate of 74 percent last year, company officials said. Twenty-two percent of the guests were leisure travelers.

DreamWorks Animation brings an expanding stable of characters to the partnership to help improve those numbers. Shrek, a four-time box office draw, is the most famous. The company’s entertainment offerings include movies, live musicals and television shows.

Gaylord hopes to begin offering themed vacation packages by July and to debut the character “experiences” this fall. Gaylord and Dreamworks Animation declined to disclose the value of the licensing agreement.

Reed said he does not anticipate the partnership requiring any expansion at the hotels. He said there are discussions with Royal Caribbean, which also has a partnership with DreamWorks Animation, to offer cruise-land packages in areas where Gaylord has hotels.

Prince George’s officials expect the partnership to increase tourism and tax revenue.

Matt Neitzey, executive director of the Prince George’s County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said he could imagine children asking their parents to go to Gaylord for a vacation once the word is out that Shrek and other DreamWorks characters are there sitting poolside.

“It is certainly going to provide more attention to National Harbor and Prince George’s County,” he said. “We’re very pleased. Gaylord has generated a lot of attention for the county.”

Reed said the the alliance with DreamWorks will help families stretch their entertainment spending.

“We know that when budgets are tight, families make tough decisions about where to spend their dollars,” Reed said.

Katzenberg said he was drawn to Gaylord because it is “a city under a roof,” which allows him to offer films, holiday specials and parades.

“I’ve been so impressed with the properties with what we can create together. It doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Katzenberg said.

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