National Harbor Stakes a Claim

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Call it the "Gateway to the Nation's Capital."

Call it National Harbor, Maryland.

But what ever you do, don't call it Oxon Hill.

On brochures, Web sites and other tools used to market the massive $2 billion waterfront project being built on the Potomac River, the Peterson Cos. never acknowledge that they are moving into Oxon Hill, and they barely mention Prince George's County.

The development that promised to put the county on the map with its white-tableclothed restaurants and swank hotels is creating its own map and its own home town: National Harbor.

"I don't know where they got it from," Kenneth Stevenson, the U.S. Postal Service postmaster for Oxon Hill and Fort Washington, said of the address. "They are Oxon Hill."

Rocell R. Viniard, vice president and director of marketing for the National Harbor project, said Peterson Cos. initially wanted to receive a "unique Zip code" or use the Fort Washington's 20744 Zip code -- and not Oxon Hill's 20745.

"National Harbor is a unique destination, and therefore a Zip code of its own seemed essential to avoid confusion of what area you were referring to," Viniard said.

But because of homes near the project that would be affected by a Zip code change, the developer agreed instead to just a new community name.

"The postal service felt this would provide the uniqueness, local identity we were looking for without affecting their service to existing customers," Viniard said.

Some Oxon Hill and Fort Washington residents chuckled when they heard about the address, saying developer Milton Peterson obviously wanted to distinguish the project.

"I don't know how you market something like this," said Sarah Cavitt, a community activist. "I imagine he is trying to capitalize on being close to the Capitol."

But after Cavitt thought more about it, she said the company should just embrace its new neighborhood. "It's Oxon Hill," she said. "There's nothing wrong with the name Oxon Hill, for heaven's sake."

Cavitt said Peterson knew the "statistics are more in favor of 20744 than 20745." She said the crime rate is higher in Oxon Hill than in Fort Washington and the cost of homes is higher in Fort Washington. The median home sales price in Fort Washington was $363,500 in 2006, compared with $284,525 in Oxon Hill.

"I guess it just makes good business sense to have their own name," she said.

Donna Edwards, once a staunch critic of the project, said she was not surprised that Peterson is making a "distinct effort to create a unique identity for National Harbor."

Edwards said most Oxon Hill residents were concerned when Peterson wanted to change the development's Zip code from Oxon Hill's 20745 to Fort Washington's 20744.

The Oxon Hill residents figured a National Harbor with an Oxon Hill address would enhance their home values and community, while a Fort Washington location would not.

Edwards said the interesting thing is that Oxon Hill, Fort Washington and even National Harbor aren't incorporated towns. "It's a place of identity," she said. The Peterson Cos. must have felt they needed a different identity to attract the clients they want, Edwards said.

Alonzo Grigsby, a member of the Greater South County Coalition for Absolute Progress, said he wasn't insulted by the name but was surprised, nonetheless.

"It seems odd," he said. "We always listed it as a gateway into the state of Maryland."

It is not unusual for developers or neighborhoods to want to distance themselves from an established community.

In 1995, Springdale separated from Landover. The community, situated between Glenarden, Landover, Lanham and Mitchellville, worked for a few years to get the name and a new Zip code. Some said they wanted the changes to set them apart from nearby communities with higher crime rates and less desirable reputations.

That change pales in comparison with what the late Jack Kent Cooke did to Landover when he built the Redskins stadium, Grigsby said.

To the chagrin of Landover residents, Cooke gave the 200-acre site off the Capital Beltway an artificial name: Raljon (named for his sons, Ralph and John).

Raljon was also given its own Zip code by the U.S. Postal Service.

Even though residents knew the stadium was in Landover, the rest of the country saw games televised from "Raljon."

But many say the marketing strategy being employed by the Peterson Cos. does not equate with what Cooke did to Landover.

Cooke "was on an ego trip," Grigsby said. "He was naming it after his kids. This is nothing like that."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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