The Prince George's County Council approved a series of bills yesterday that move National Harbor, a $2 billion development along the Potomac River, a step closer to breaking ground this year.
The council, by unanimous vote, designated the planned hotel and convention center as a special taxing district and approved issuance of $160 million in bonds to pay for roads, sewers and other infrastructure at the site.
"This is a historic day in Prince George's County," County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) told the council.
The legislative approval follows months of negotiations that the county and community leaders held with Gaylord Entertainment Co. and the Peterson Co., partners in the development.
Last month, the county signed agreements with Gaylord and Peterson establishing requirements for minority business participation and community outreach. Part of the agreement requires the developers to spend $3.5 million over 10 years on community initiatives in the county.
The council's action also signaled a possible end to years of litigation brought by residents opposed to the project.
"I think we're over the hump," said Johnson, who was joined yesterday by Donna Edwards and Bonnie Bick, leaders of the community opposition. "What we have done is brought all groups together. . . . Rightly, they had tremendous reservation about what should go at National Harbor . . . I think we're here today because all of the concerns were addressed."
Edwards, leader of the Committee to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, the Prince George's community near the site, was not quite as definitive as Johnson. She said that she has been in discussions with Peterson trying to settle their differences but that nothing has been finalized.
"The question is, does the developer want to work with the community to resolve some of these outstanding issues or will we continue to be engaged in this confrontation?" Edwards said after the vote. "We would much rather not be engaged in confrontation but be engaged in resolving this for the community."
Council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) said he plans to continue discussions with Peterson about investing in the community. "We are at a start, not at an end," Knotts said.
Still unclear is whether National Harbor, which would include 1,500 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, might be a potential site for slot machines when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes next year to take up the thorny issue.
Asked whether Gaylord would welcome slots, said Colin V. Reed, president and chief executive. "It's not a simple 'Yes, we want them,' or 'No, we don't want them.' "
Reed said there is no plan to have slot machines or any form of gaming at National Harbor, which will include restaurants, shops and entertainment. "The concern we have is, what if it happens a mile or two from us?" he said.
Past attempts to build on the Prince George's banks of the Potomac have failed. In 1987, a developer, James T. Lewis, broke ground for Port America, a 52-story office tower that would have overlooked the river, but the property was foreclosed on in the 1990s.
"You get to a point where you have to decide," Peterson told the council yesterday. "Do you move forward or do you bail?"