By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2008
The ceremony had all the makings of the christening of a luxurious cruise ship setting out on its maiden voyage.
With sweeping views of the Potomac River and airplanes flying overhead, developer Milton V. Peterson and elected officials, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), descended on National Harbor to celebrate the official opening of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
The afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in the hotel's 18-story atrium. Hundreds of business and community leaders and politicians joined in the festivities, which were capped by a massive fireworks display inside the atrium and along the riverbank.
The hotel, Johnson said, will allow the county to take a "giant leap into [the state's] tourism economy."
"What this hotel complex and this destination mean to the future of our county cannot be calculated," Johnson said. "We have built it for the more than $50 million it will generate each and every year for this county. . . . We have built it because the United States, Maryland and Prince George's County need commercial growth.
"But mostly, we have built it for the thousands of people who will earn a living here, some getting their first taste of the satisfaction of earning a paycheck," he said.
Later in the evening, guests assembled for a black-tie gala featuring country singers Charley Pride and Martina McBride. The guests were serenaded by six Gaylord Girls, and they munched on crisp green salad and rockfish.
"I've been to two Gaylords in Orlando and Nashville, and never did I imagine we'd have one in the state of Maryland," said Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's).
Billed as the largest non-casino hotel and convention center on the East Coast, Gaylord has 2,000 rooms, 110 suites, 300 VIP rooms and an exhibit hall the size of three football fields.
The hotel is the cornerstone of the $4 billion National Harbor development being built by Peterson. National Harbor will be a little city of its own, with a mixture of condominiums, restaurants, a tree-lined promenade, hotels, marinas, piers, offices and specialty stores.
The $870 million hotel is bigger than the largest hotel in the District, the Marriott Wardman Park. The resort broke hospitality industry records by booking more than 1 million rooms before it opened this month.
Some groups that have been loyal customers in the District are part of that number. "Prince George's is where it's happening in the region," said Colin Reed, Gaylord's chief executive officer.
Critics suggested that Gaylord build its hotel in another part of the region, Reed said, not Prince George's. But he said the critics were wrong. Not that there haven't been problems.
"Sure, there have been some hiccups along the way, maybe a few misunderstandings -- over things like liquor licenses," Reed said.
Gaylord was not granted a liquor license during last year's legislative session. A lawsuit against the county liquor board ensued but was dropped after the liquor board agreed to issue the license.
"We like this place, and we are happy with our decision to come here," Reed said.
Reed said he did not think that county residents would appreciate Peterson's project until it is fully built in 10 years.