Last week’s frigid conditions didn’t stop about 100 workers from drilling on icy ground, removing dirt and pouring concrete on what will be the first of seven parking levels of Maryland’s newest gaming resort.
Seven months after obtaining building permits, MGM Resorts International says it is on track for next year’s opening of the $1.2 billion casino at National Harbor that will feature 3,600 slot machines and 140 gambling tables. Crews on the 23-acre site overlooking the Potomac River are nearly done with the foundation.
“Obviously, weather and minor issues can slow you down a little but, overall, the progress has been phenomenal,” Lorenzo Creighton, MGM National Harbor president and chief executive, said in an interview last week. “The exciting part is when we actually see it come out of the ground.”
It shouldn’t be long before the towering structure with spectacular waterfront views starts to take shape.
The first parking level is expected to be completed within a few weeks. By Memorial Day, there will be nine cranes — in addition to the two now on the site — and about 1,000 workers working nearly around the clock to meet the target to open by the latter half of 2016.
“We are getting there,” Eric Coates, the site’s safety manager, said Wednesday while touring the steep, muddy site just north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George’s County. Many of the workers, he said, are county residents like him who, even on below-freezing days, have been diligently building the state’s sixth casino.
MGM officials said they are crafting a massive operations plan that will cover marketing strategies, transportation and security, as well as the hiring of nearly 4,000 people who will staff the 24-hour gaming facility, its 21-story, 300-room hotel, 3,000-seat entertainment venue, celebrity chef-driven restaurants and upscale retail shops.
“People think casino and they think dealers, bartenders and waiters. But companywide, we make 70 percent of revenues from non-gaming sources,” said MGM spokesman Gordon M. Absher. “So while yes, we are going to have a casino and we will need dealers, we are also going to need chefs, and accountants, and hotel front desk agents, and supervisors, and spa technicians and retail managers.”
The company has pledged to have 50 percent of its workforce come from Prince George’s by the fifth year of operations, and MGM officials say it has partnered with workforce development agencies in the county that will help them identify and screen potential employees. As part of the effort, the company said it is also working to convert the old Thomas Addison Elementary School — about a half-mile from National Harbor in Oxon Hill — into a recruitment and training center.
In its recent report to the state, MGM reported that it’s making headway with its targeted benchmarks for minority contracting, disputing claims from critics that the company has not made an effort to hire minority businesses. Absher said the project has contracted 59 state-certified minority business enterprises so far, and paid them nearly $20 million.
Creighton said a traffic-management plan is 90-percent completed and will address neighbors’ concerns about traffic to and from the new facility, as well as potential backups from an increase in vehicles in an area already suffering from traffic congestion.
“We will be a huge advocate for public transportation,” Creighton said. “It is in everybody’s best interest to diminish the number of cars as much we can coming into the harbor. We are going to do as much as we can to encourage that.”
Besides programs to provide incentives for employees to carpool, MGM said it plans to work with local transportation authorities to press for improved public transit at National Harbor, where workers have long complained about limited transit options. Some neighbors and civic leaders in the area have been advocating for more public transit, and say they ultimately want a Metro station at the Harbor. They view the arrival of the casino, which is expected to draw thousands to the area, as a strong motive for the county and state to invest in transportation.
“It’s a natural solution that more buses will be ultimately added,” Creighton said.
MGM is already preparing for one possible parking problem when the facility opens. Because the company policy is to offer free parking — the complex will have nearly 5,000 parking spaces — it may need to come up with a plan to prevent people from parking at the casino for free and walking down to the waterfront, leaving no parking spaces for visitors.