Excuse me, country western fans, but Opryland on the Potomac in Prince George's County?
The announcement yesterday that Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville would be anchoring the National Harbor development with a trademark Opryland Hotel probably makes a lot of economic sense. But for a county that is home to the largest concentration of black middle-class residents in the nation, I foresee something of a culture clash.
Thumbing through an Opryland brochure being handed out by Gaylord officials, I saw only two pictures of black people--tiny photos, at that--riding in a boat along a part of the hotel complex called the Delta.
The rest of the pictures were of white people enjoying themselves in architectural surroundings reminiscent of the antebellum South. While the development is expected to create more than 2,000 jobs, I had to wonder just what kind of work black people would really be doing.
If there is going to be a "race issue" with the development, it's this Old South theme--not a racial fight between black county officials and white environmentalists who, quite frankly, are right to be concerned about the destruction of wetlands and increased traffic.
"Looking across the river at all of Virginia's waterfront, we find it unacceptable that people are trying to tell us that we shouldn't have waterfront development," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.). "It's elitist. It's racist."
The problem with Wynn's statement is that some of those same environmentalists also opposed a lot of the development along the Virginia side of the river.
And yet, Wynn's reaction is understandable. For years, affluent black residents in Prince George's have wanted upscale development in their midst, only to be thwarted by racial redlining.
Some developers even admitted that as long as blacks were willing to drive miles around the Beltway just to shop in predominantly white areas like, say, Tysons Corner, there was no reason to gamble on seeing if whites would shop in a predominantly black area.
Now comes a chance to turn the tide on that economic insult. And for a lot of blacks, that is more important than saving some trees.
When it was learned that an employee of the company developing National Harbor had cut down a tree that may have held a bald eagle's nest, developer Milton V. Peterson apologized, expressing his regrets in a sometimes-tearful interview.
Affluent African Americans, however, rallied to his defense, in effect drying his eyes with visions of the big bucks they were looking forward to spending at his resort.
All but lost in the racial fight with environmentalists were concerns expressed by Prince George's County Council member Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington), who said he was uncomfortable about the county having so little control over what the development would look like.
Now he knows: Ike Gourdine, meet Minnie Pearl.
Let's face it: The name, Grand Ole Opry, is not race-neutral. It comes with a peculiar baggage--images of fiddle-playing good ol' boys and extreme racial segregation--that county officials ought to unpack and air out before the first ribbon is cut or a single spade of dirt gets turned.
I recall how racial insensitivities by Disney America contributed to the failure of that project in Manassas several years ago. The historical theme park was going to have a "slavery exhibit," we were suddenly told, to be located, for all anybody knew, next to the cotton candy concession.
Preliminary reports indicate that Opryland on the Potomac will have more of an "Americana" flavor, whatever that means. Gaylord officials say there won't be emphasis on country music, but people almost certainly would be disappointed to come to a place named Opryland and not find country music. An Opryland brochure handed out yesterday featured the likes of Roy Acuff, "the King of Country Music."
But there is nothing in it about Charley Pride, the first African American to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. (Perhaps that's because Pride didn't take to the Opry stage until 1967. Although he had been singing since 1955, his manager had been unable to promote him because he was black.)
This is a huge 534-acre resort that will feature first-class hotels, movie theaters, offices, upscale shops, a marina and promenade that is expected to attract 12 million visitors a year.
On paper, it sure looks like Opryland dough is going to flow into Prince George's coffers, and that's just what County Executive Wayne K. Curry wants. One of his top priorities has been to get more money for the county's troubled public schools, and the estimated $55 million from Harbor Place construction will certainly help.
"I spent an entire lifetime in this community waiting for a moment like this," Curry told a celebratory crowd at the Oxon Run Manor yesterday. "This is an extraordinary time in Prince George's County. We are welcoming the new millennium with class and distinction."
Personally, though, I would have preferred Motown.