Prince George's Cover Story

National Harbor's 'Mini-City' Takes Shape

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Visitors stroll along the pier, some stopping to take a water taxi to Alexandria or Georgetown. Art lovers gaze at pieces in two galleries. And near the plaza, children climb over the "Awakening," the massive sculpture that was uprooted from its longtime home in Hains Port.

This is National Harbor, the little city being built by Milton Peterson along the banks of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, where yachts are filling the marina.

The city is slowly taking shape.

It already has the largest hotel and convention centers on the eastern seaboard. Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, which has several restaurants and stores, is joined by two art galleries (Art Whino and Govinda Gallery), a sandwich shop (Potbelly's Sandwich Works), an ice cream shop (Ben & Jerry's), a clambake restaurant (Foster's Downeast Clambake), a jewelry store (Erwin Pearl) and a couple of accessory shops at the 300-acre waterfront development.

Gaylord, which opened in April, is one of three hotels now accepting customers at National Harbor. The Hampton Inn & Suites opened in April, and the Westin, the resort's only waterfront hotel, followed last month.

Residents will be moving into condominiums this fall, and resort timeshares will be offered for sale next year. The National Children's Museum is expected to open in 2012.

Susannah Parnin, gallery director at Art Whino, was enthusiastic about becoming part of Peterson's development. "We thought the project was exciting, and there would be a lot of foot traffic, and it's a beautiful area, and we jumped on the opportunity," she said.

The foot traffic, Parnin said, has gotten "better and better each weekend."

On Friday nights, National Harbor offers a free summer concert series. And every Saturday through Oct. 18, farmers, artisans, bakers and florists sell their wares at the American Farmers Market.

"The beauty of the property causes people to stroll around and enjoy the waters," said Kwasi Holman, president of the county's Economic Development Corporation. "It's unique for this part of the region."

Restaurants at Gaylord, including Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine and Old Hickory Steakhouse, which employs a full-time cheese steward and wine steward, are drawing crowds as they try to provide the fine dining experiences that county residents have long complained were missing.

"National Harbor is exceeding its potential in terms of providing a venue for recreation and leisure dining," Holman said.

This week, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood became the first white-tablecloth restaurant to open outside of Gaylord at the development. "This project fits with what this company looks for," said Jill Collins, a spokeswoman for McCormick & Schmick's. "It has a great mix of residential and retail, and the proximity to the Gaylord Hotel makes it very attractive."

Instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, McCormick & Schmick's opened with its traditional "fish toss" Monday, in which elected and company officials, adorned in aprons and rubber gloves, handed off a fresh fish to the restaurant's executive chef.

In coming months, visitors will be able to enjoy the cakes of lawyer-turned-baker and Food Channel star Warren Brown, who runs Cake Love. They also will be able to purchase motorcycle gear from a Harley-Davidson shop and buy a shirt or tie at Jos. A. Bank, a men's retailer that is opening its second store in Prince George's.

In September, Timothy Dean, who learned to cook from acclaimed chef Jean-Louis Palladin of the Watergate Hotel, will open a bistro on Fleet Street. Dean, who grew up in Prince George's, said he looks forward to "putting Prince George's on the food map."

Dean said that when he has returned to Prince George's after traveling abroad, he has always been disappointed with "the level of chains and fast food" restaurants.

"I'm just waiting for them to release it and give me my keys," he said about his new bistro.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company