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How would the new casino affect property values in Prince George’s and Alexandria?

(Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Dean Cottrill, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Mid-Atlantic region, writes an occasional column on market conditions in the Washington area.

As a homeowner, there are certain things you can do to protect and improve your home’s value – things like routine maintenance, renovations and updates. Then there are other things that can impact your home’s value over which you have no control – things like your neighbors, the economy and nearby new developments. For some area residents and potential home buyers, MGM National Harbor could prove to be one of those things.

Maryland’s latest and most comprehensive casino development, MGM National Harbor, is set to open in the second half of next year. Touted as a “destination resort experience,” it will include a luxury hotel, fine dining, world-class entertainment, upscale shops and a spa. Yet what really makes this new casino stand out from others in Maryland is its location.

Situated in Prince George’s County directly across from Alexandria on the Potomac River waterfront, MGM National Harbor is positioned to attract visitors from Washington and Virginia by road and water.  While having a casino nearby is nothing new for Maryland residents, this is unchartered territory for those on the other side of the river.

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The development raises a lot of questions. What do Alexandria residents and prospective home buyers think about having a casino just across the bridge? How do Prince George’s County residents feel about the expansion of National Harbor? Are there concerns about the impact on home values?

Studies on the topic, including research by the National Association of Realtors, have yielded mixed results. A casino can often have negative effects on its community, but there are many variables involved, including if it’s a destination or local venue, the level of competition, the number and diversity of job offerings and the location.

MGM National Harbor is positioning itself as a destination venue, and has promised to create thousands of jobs at all levels, relying heavily on local recruitment. And while its proximity to Washington and Virginia is an advantage, it does have competition from other Maryland casinos, including two (Maryland Live! and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore) that are close enough to also attract residents of the District and Virginia.

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A group of real estate agents who service Alexandria and, to a lesser extent, Prince George’s County, recently shared their thoughts about the development, as well as what they’re hearing from their clients. Surprisingly, the feedback was mostly positive. Property listings in the area are even already touting their proximity to the not-yet-opened casino. While the agents acknowledged the potential for some negative issues, the location of the project seems to make all the difference.

Obviously, the Potomac River provides physical space between the new casino and Alexandria, but it also provides access. With water taxis available to transport people back and forth, Alexandria leaders are hoping to see an economic boost to the area, as casino visitors travel to shop and dine in Old Town or even stay in area hotels instead of the casino’s resort.

The fact that it’s going in National Harbor, an already established commercial center, is also important. People welcome positive growth there, and are cautiously optimistic about the potential for new jobs and business opportunities. Additionally, there is a perception that this will be a high-end resort casino, one that will provide an array of expanded entertainment options beyond just gambling – something both residents and visitors can enjoy.

Of course, concerns do exist, and those were shared, as well.

Traffic is always a consideration with a development of this size, and this one is no different. There will be multiple access points, including by the water, which could help to spread out the additional traffic and lessen its overall impact, but residents will still probably notice an increase. Perhaps indicating they are sensitive to residents’ concerns, MGM recently reversed an earlier decision and has now stated it will allow a Metro bus stop at the casino.

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In addition, some realty agents have heard from residents along the waterfront who are anxious about the casino’s noise, signage and lighting – will it be too much, distracting or even just unattractive? That’s something no one will really know for sure until it’s complete, and something homeowners and buyers should keep in mind.

There is also an underlying apprehension that casinos can seem undesirable, increase crime or disrupt the local economy. Here again, though, the promise of a high-end resort destination – not just a casino – and the reputation of MGM’s existing developments have so far seemed to ease many of those anxieties.

We can’t know for sure how and to what extent MGM National Harbor will impact home values or life in nearby areas, but it’s always good for homeowners and home buyers to be aware of developments of this magnitude and to consider all of the potential effects – positive and negative – before making a real estate decision.

Catch up with Dean’s previous column:

What homebuyers inside and outside the Beltway want