April hearing likely on MGM National Harbor casino; project could break ground in summer

February 20

MGM Resorts International has submitted formal plans to Prince George’s County for construction of a $925 million casino complex at National Harbor.

The county Planning Board could bring the application to a public hearing as early as April, a county planner said, as officials expedite the proposal for a possible groundbreaking this summer.

The casino, supported by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), is slated to open in mid-2016 and is expected draw thousands of people from across the Washington region and beyond. County officials say the project will boost tourism and expand the county’s economic base.

The Nevada-based gaming giant filed site plans with the county last week, a little more than a month after a Maryland commission granted the company the state’s sixth and final casino license.

MGM announced this week that it had hired a Prince George’s architectural firm to work as a liaison between the company and the county during the complex permitting process.

MGM proposes to build a luxurious gambling resort on 23 acres overlooking the Potomac River. The plan calls for a 300-suite glass-tower hotel, 3,600 slot machines, 140 gaming tables, a concert theater, several restaurants, a spa, and high-end stores. The resort will have about 4,700 parking spaces.

Various county agencies are reviewing the plan and will provide assessments to the Planning Department, planner Susan Lareuse said. The department staff will make a recommendation to the Planning Board.

The board has tentatively scheduled a hearing on application for April 10, Lareuse said. If approved, the plan will go to the County Council for final review, a process that could take an additional 60 days. Baker’s support is expected to keep the project moving forward, and MGM could be seeking construction permits and breaking ground this summer, officials said.

MGM was widely perceived as a favorite with county leaders and residents during last year’s competition for the state gambling license, but the company is still likely to face opposition and various demands from the community during the approval process.

Civic associations in the National Harbor area have been discussing traffic concerns that are likely to be an issue during public hearings. Residents and community leaders say they want improvements made to busy Oxon Hill Road and Indian Head Highway. Others have discussed pressing MGM to invest in low-income and distressed neighborhoods near National Harbor and in the county school system.

“I haven’t heard any people who have said that they will fight against MGM. I think if they have those thoughts, they are fighting a losing battle, because obviously we are going to get the casino,” said Ron Weiss, a board member of the Tantallon Citizens Association and a Fort Washington resident for 30 years. “The question is how we can best minimize the impact of the casino on our community.”

MGM said it is carrying out its pledge to hire local and minority-owned businesses for the project, which is expected to generate thousands of jobs. The company said Tuesday that it has hired Arel Architects and its president and chief executive, Ronald D. Lipford, to serve as a liaison between MGM’s design team and the Prince George’s Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement.

In October, MGM announced that Radio One owner Cathy Hughes and her son planned to invest $40 million in the project, meaning that prominent African Americans would have a stake in MGM’s proposal.

Temple Hills-based Arel will provide oversight and management support between the development team and regulators during the planning and construction phases of the project. Arel’s role is crucial in the complex permitting process, said Lorenzo Creighton, president and chief operating officer of MGM National Harbor.

“Major projects like ours are made or broken in the permit process,” Creighton said. “We are on an aggressive schedule, and in order to make our target opening date, the timing and coordination of permitting is crucial to our success.”

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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