MGM gets Prince George’s council backing for casino construction at National Harbor

The groundbreaking could occur as soon as August.


A rendering of the proposed MGM casino at National Harbor. (Courtesy of MGM)

MGM Resorts International is ready to begin construction on its $925 million gambling complex at National Harbor after receiving Prince George’s County’s blessing Monday.

“It is exciting” said Lorenzo Creighton, president and chief operating officer of MGM National Harbor. “You will see an impressive project . . . nothing like we have seen in this area before.”

The Prince George’s County Council voted 8 to 1 in favor of MGM’s plans, authorizing the Nevada-based company to seek building permits and stay on track for a 2016 opening. MGM could have an official groundbreaking as soon as next month.

“This was a major hurdle for us,” said Creighton after Monday’s vote. “Now we can start the construction process and then see the benefit of that economic promise.”

The project is expected to bring millions of dollars in revenue to Maryland and Prince George’s and 4,000 new jobs to the county. The county’s share from tax revenue is estimated at $40 million to $45 million annually.


A view of the planned MGM casino at National Harbor (Courtesy of MGM)

The luxurious gambling resort is slated for 23 acres overlooking the Potomac River, just north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It will feature 3,600 slot machines, 140 gambling tables and a 21-story, 300-room hotel. There also will be restaurants, a concert theater and high-end shopping.

County leaders said MGM presented an economic development deal that Prince George’s could not afford to pass up. They expect that the 1 million-square-foot facility will draw thousands of visitors from across the Washington region and put the county on the map as a top gambling destination outside of Las Vegas.

“The world will come to Prince George’s County to see this facility,” council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) said before Monday’s vote.

Some members called it a “monumental” and “historic” day for the county.

“We are . . . on the precipice of a substantial step forward in economic development in Prince George’s County,” said council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro).

The vote by the County Council — meeting as the District Council, its designation when it considers land-use matters — completes the site-approval process seven months after a Maryland panel awarded MGM the state’s sixth and final casino license.

Officials, led by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), expedited MGM’s application process, often noting that the financial gains it brings will allow the county to make investments in road infrastructure and other areas. Baker on Monday praised the council’s decision as a statement that Prince George’s is open for business and committed to expanding its economic development opportunities.

“I am excited about the 2016 opening. We are on the way there,” Baker said.

Council member Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel), who cast the only vote against the project, said that although she respected the will of the voters, who approved a 2012 referendum to expand gambling in Maryland, she still opposed bringing gambling to Prince George’s.

“On principle, I had to say no,” she said. “This is not the future that I want for this county or for my children.”

Opposition to the project was minimal during the approval process, although some residents and civic leaders objected to aspects of the design. They chiefly voiced concerns about the planned lighting features and giant outdoor LED video screens and the project’s impact on traffic and road infrastructure.

MGM representatives successfully made their case to keep the lighting and signs, saying they are important to the overall design. And MGM, county and state transportation officials said they are working on a comprehensive plan that will address traffic, infrastructure and future transit needs.

Council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), who represents the district that includes National Harbor and who had complained about the lack of details in the plan to mitigate traffic and address road capacity, said Monday that he was assured that the plan will come together and that potential traffic problems will be addressed by the time the casino opens.

Construction crews have begun preliminary work at the casino site, removing dirt and old utilities. In a few days, they will widen and deepen a hole in the ground, preparing the soil for the new structure, and within a year, they will begin raising the walls, Creighton said.

“We are in a very tight time schedule to make that July 2016 [opening] date, so you will see things happening very quickly,” he said.

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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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