NATIONAL HARBOR – The Prince George’s County Planning Board on Thursday unanimously green-lighted the detailed site plan for MGM National Harbor, a $925-million luxury gambling resort. The board’s approval puts the project one step closer to breaking ground this summer and opening in July 2016. “We’re very pleased and we appreciate the planning board’s due […]
NATIONAL HARBOR – The Prince George’s County Planning Board on Thursday unanimously green-lighted the detailed site plan for MGM National Harbor, a $925-million luxury gambling resort.
The board’s approval puts the project one step closer to breaking ground this summer and opening in July 2016. “We’re very pleased and we appreciate the planning board’s due diligence regarding the designated site plan for MGM National Harbor,” said Lorenzo Creighton, President and Chief Operating Officer, MGM National Harbor. “Today is a good day for MGM and the county—one that takes us a big step closer to final county approval and the building permits to begin construction at National Harbor. We’re ready to get to work on construction and hiring the skilled men, women and contractors who will help make our vision a fully functioning economic engine for Prince George’s County.”
When completed, the 1 million-square foot facility will include a 300-room hotel, a 4,797-parking space garage, a 3,000-seat theater and space for multiple restaurants.
The architect for the resort is Russell Perry of SmithGroupJJR, who describes the design as a sleek, modern mixed-use facility.
The next step for the project is for it to go before the Prince George’s County Council, sitting as the District Council.
According to Karen Campbell, a spokesperson for the council, District 8 Councilman Obie Patterson has called for a review of the legislation. Residents who want to appeal need to contact the council by June. Campbell said no date has been set for a public hearing or oral argument by the council.
Elizabeth M. Hewlet, chair of the planning board, said the board’s hearing and subsequent decision were not about the expansion of gambling, but were to remain focused on the site plan.
“We are here to discuss and debate, and decide issues related to the appearance and layout of the hotel and casino site itself, not whether or not there should be a casino, or where the money from the casino might go, or what impacts—positive or negative—there might be to the county other than economic benefit which has been a criteria, Hewlet said.
Brad Frome, interim assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure said the county is excited the project is moving forward.
“We’re pleased with the progress that the project is making,” Frome said. “The planning board is an independent body to review site plans and it’s nothing that we have any kind of oversight over.”
During the nearly five-hour hearing before the board’s vote, a number of residents and civic leaders voiced concerns, mostly about the proposed casino resort’s lighting features and LED video screens.
Part of MGM’s plan is to include a 60-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide, and 35-foot-deep video board at the center of the west building elevation and four additional 49-foot-tall, 90-foot-wide, and 71-foot-deep video boards are proposed.
Residents likened the signage to billboards, saying the lights will shine on nearby historic sites and residences, and have the potential to distract drivers.
According to the Prince George’s County Planning Board’s staff report, the video boards are allowed under the county’s zoning ordinance, but MGM should make sure it limits distractions on drivers.
“Signs which flash or blink, or which have varying intensity of illumination on less than a five second cycle, are prohibited,” according to the staff report. “While digital boards are not prohibited by the zoning ordinance, the applicant should remain cognizant of zoning ordinance regulations dealing with the lighting and speed of imagery shown on the boards, so as not to flash or blink, in order to avoid motorist distraction and impairment.”
The planning board staff gave a glowing review of the project, saying it will integrate harmoniously into existing development at the National Harbor while the casino will provide another dynamic aspect and the building will provide a distinctive visual character.
“The planning and design of this iconic building will achieve economies of scale and savings in energy when compared to construction of a number of individual projects occupying the same land area,” according to the staff report. “This intensive use of the land, for over a million square feet of mixed-use development, at the gateway to the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County will provide for optimum land use planning distinctive visual character.”
According to a study submitted by MGM prepared by Marquette Advisors in April 2013, MGM National Harbor will have a powerful economic impact Prince George’s County and Maryland.
Marquette Advisors projects the creation of 2,760 jobs and more than $822 million in annual projected combined spending at MGM and the neighboring businesses.
3,758 direct jobs are projected on-site, plus another 425 jobs at nearby businesses as a result of direct expenditures in the area related to tourism. The study also anticipates the resort will generate $29,614,445 taxes and fees for the county.
“This project will contribute to the economic vitality of the overall National Harbor development and is a substantial investment in the County by the applicant,” according to the planning board staff report.
With the planning board’s approval, MGM has agreed to address conditions related to road improvements, pedestrian and bicycle access, public safety and signage. MGM agreed to pay $85,353 for landscaping to improve a buffer between historic Oxon Hill Manor and the resort. The company also agreed to remove a light beam it had originally proposed which would have pointed from the hotel directly into the night sky.
MGM must also modify its sign plan so the lighting levels and brightness of its boards can be adjustable for daytime and nighttime to limit the impact. According to Karen Campbell, director of communications for the Prince George’s County Council, the next stop for the project is the Prince George’s District Council, but the item likely won’t appear on the agenda until late June or early July.