Just when Old Town Alexandrians thought nothing worse than a 12-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge loomed on their horizon, there's this: Opryland on the opposite shore.
Yesterday, Prince George's County officials announced their commercial jackpot: a $560 million hotel and conference center complex on the waterfront, with tony shops and an Americana theme, run by the same company that operates the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. But as the jubilee continued in Prince George's, the mood was less sanguine across the river.
"An aquatic circus," huffed Kenneth Foran, a member of the Alexandria Waterfront Committee. "A visual blight."
Environmental activist Andrew Macdonald opined, "The worst possible thing that could happen to the Potomac River."
And Judy McVay, an Old Town resident and leader in the fight against the proposed 12-lane bridge replacement, said the idea of the Opryland Hotel Potomac would be "amusing, if it weren't so tragic. . . . I'm thinking, 'Where is Opryland? Tennessee? Alabama?' I'm not thinking the shores of the Potomac."
And so the cross-river tension continues.
Old Town Alexandria, a wealthy neighborhood that prides itself on and strives to preserve its Colonial past, sees little merit in its Maryland neighbor's 534-acre development. In response, officials in majority-black Prince George's believe the criticism is uncharitable at best and racist at worst.
At yesterday's news conference in Prince George's, the Alexandrian discontent was nearly a running joke.
"They did it across the river from Alexandria, and that's wonderful," said County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D).
"We're going to be the crown jewel on the Potomac, and I think that's what everyone is worried about," said state Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's).
Alexandria officials were circumspect. They said that they have concerns about traffic generated by the complex but that they also hope for better relations between the county and the city.
Alexandrians must "accept the fact that there's another jurisdiction on the other side of the river that's just as concerned about their economic development as we are," said City Council member David G. Speck (D).
Council member Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D) called the development "overwhelming" but added that the city would make the most of it.
"We'll see if we can't get some of the overflow business," Pepper said.
Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.
Opryland on the Potomac
What: The $560 million Opryland Hotel Potomac is planned to be a 2,000-room hotel and conference center, with 400,000 square feet of exhibition space -- more than originally available at the Washington Convention Center.
Where: The 40-acre complex will hug the Potomac River just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Oxon Hill.
When: Construction is scheduled to start in 2002 and conclude two years later.
Who: The project is one of three being built by the Gaylord Entertainment Co., a Nashville-based media and entertainment company. The company operates the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Hotel Convention Center in Nashville and is building similar facilities in Orlando and Dallas.
The future: The project is one piece of the National Harbor resort, which also is to include a shopping mall and other hotels and entertainment venues. No other deals have been announced yet.
SOURCES: The Peterson Companies and Gaylord Entertainment Co.