Prince George’s council panel revises bill linking benefits, MGM casino construction

A Prince George’s County legislative committee Thursday weakened a controversial bill that put the County Council at odds with the gaming giant MGM Resorts International and, some members said, led to intervention from Annapolis.

The proposal, which is intended to ensure that county residents and businesses get a fair shot at jobs and contracts related to construction of the $925 million casino resort at National Harbor, now has MGM’s blessing but splits the council.

Some council members who had originally supported the bill backed off Thursday and said political pressure from Annapolis mounted after MGM claimed last week that the proposal could delay the project.

The original bill required that an agreement setting requirements for local hiring and contracting be finalized before building permits would be issued for project. The new proposal says the agreement must be finalized before the facility opens.

Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), the lead sponsor of the bill, said that the amended legislation represents a middle ground for the council and MGM. “In the spirit of compromise, it seeks to put to rest any implication that anybody is trying to delay this project,” he said.

MGM National Harbor and the office of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) have been negotiating for months on an agreement to set conditions about contracting and other economic benefits to the county.

The revised bill was voted out of the Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee on a 3 to 1 vote Thursday and will be introduced in the full council Tuesday. Franklin said the measure has the support of five of the nine council members. The original legislation had the support of at least eight members.

Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) asked Thursday that her name be removed from the bill. Council members Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel) and Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington) said they no longer support the measure.

The revised bill “absolutely means nothing,” said Patterson, whose district includes National Harbor. “We have fought in our community in hopes to try to hold a major company responsible for doing something in the community, to be a good neighbor and provide some incentives for our community.”

When it comes to a vote, the proposal is sure to split the council. It also puts some members of the council at odds with Annapolis.

“I cannot support this amended version of this bill. I do not want or need the leadership in Annapolis to tell me how to do my job here in Upper Marlboro,” Lehman said. “If we are going to cede our authority to the state, then we might as well pack up our bags and go home.”

Council members declined to say where pressure came from. Franklin denied that he was pressured to change the legislation and said that he was merely working with MGM to address the company’s concerns.

MGM National Harbor officials lobbied against the original proposal, saying that the legislation could be a “roadblock,” potentially delaying the project’s construction schedule. Arthur Horne, a company attorney, told the legislative committee Thursday that the company supports the revised bill.

Earlier this week, Franklin said that he expected the original bill to pass.

“MGM is raising concerns about something that is pretty typical for any time you have requirements on projects,” he said in an interview.

In December, Nevada-based MGM was awarded Maryland’s sixth and final casino license , allowing the company to pursue its plan for National Harbor. 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.

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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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