NAACP Weighs Move to Pr. George's

Shops, housing and a conference center are among the plans for National Harbor in Oxon Hill.
Shops, housing and a conference center are among the plans for National Harbor in Oxon Hill. (Development Design Group)
By Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The president of the NAACP said yesterday that the organization is taking a serious look at the National Harbor development in Prince George's County as a new location for its national headquarters.

Leaders of the civil rights organization have been contemplating moving from Baltimore to the Washington area to be closer to the national's capital. Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive of the NAACP, said that the search has broadened to include locations outside the District and that National Harbor appeared very attractive.

"If we can make the details work, this is a place we will give very, very serious consideration," Gordon said after an hour-long, closed-door meeting with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) at National Harbor headquarters.

Luring the NAACP could provide an additional boon to the $2 billion National Harbor project, which is rising in Prince George's near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Oxon Hill on the banks of the Potomac River. The largest development in county history, it is slated to include shops, restaurants, housing and a conference facility.

There was a political undercurrent to yesterday's meeting. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), who is challenging Ehrlich for governor this year, is still trying to persuade the NAACP to stay in Baltimore, where it moved in 1986 from New York and employs more than 100 people.

Ehrlich said yesterday that he first broached the idea of the NAACP moving to National Harbor during a meeting with Gordon a few weeks ago at the governor's mansion in Annapolis.

"When Bruce first visited the house, it was, 'Look, we're leaving,' " Ehrlich said. "We wanted him to know our fallback was anywhere else in Maryland."

Gordon said that before the meeting, "National Harbor was not on our radar screen. It currently is." He gave no timetable for making a decision about a move and said D.C. locations are still being considered.

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said that as recently as two weeks ago, during the NAACP's national conference in Washington, O'Malley and the group's leaders discussed remaining in Baltimore.

After meeting with Gordon in June at Baltimore City Hall, O'Malley acknowledged that the group was "strongly leaning" toward moving to the Washington area but said that Baltimore officials would take their "best shot" to entice it to stay.

After yesterday's meeting, Steele and Johnson argued that the Prince George's location would be appropriate given the NAACP's heightened focus on economic empowerment.

"I think the site marries the NAACP to its future, I really do," said Steele, a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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