Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s economic development efforts were dealt a major blow as the Walt Disney Co. pulled out of a deal to build an expansive resort hotel at National Harbor.

Disney bought the site for $11 million in 2009, but the entertainment giant never committed to any set plans for the proposed 500-room resort; which left many wondering if anything was ever going to come of the development.

Two years later, the Peterson Companies, the developer of the project, is disappointed with the decision of Disney to step away from the deal.

“We were disappointed to learn that Walt Disney Parks & Resorts will not be moving forward with its plans for a resort hotel at National Harbor,” said Jon Peterson, senior vice president of the Peterson Companies, in a statement.  “We’ve established a tremendous relationship with Disney over the years and have the utmost respect for the entire organization.”

Baker ran on a platform of turning around the economic fortunes of the county and has tried to come through on those campaign promises while in office. He has successfully begun the redevelopment process at the New Carrollton Metro Station and has the county heading towards developing the area around the Bowie State MARC Train station. In addition to that he created the $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund to help spur growth and is currently on a business trip to India with Gov. Martin O’Malley.

As much good as Baker has done, this setback not only damages the county, but National Harbor as well, which is supposed to be the crown jewel county development.

The harbor has yet to see the kind of success many hoped for it despite the fanfare and financial commitment given it. Its opening was lackluster due to the economic downturn and its higher end retail, hotels, and restaurants keep many working class families away from the development.

In addition, expensive parking garages have angered many residents because there are limited transit options to get to the development.

Despite that, Peterson Companies executives remain optimistic about the future of the National Harbor. In fact, they tout the arrival of Tanger Outlets next year as proof that the development is strong.

“Over the past 15 years, the vision for National Harbor has evolved into what is now the Washington, DC area’s premier mixed-use waterfront destination,” Peterson continued.  “That evolution continues in 2012 as we celebrate the groundbreakings for Tanger Outlets at National Harbor – a 388,000 square foot outlet center and The Esplanade –a 371 unit mixed-use apartment complex.”

The outlet center is expected to house 80 stores, 400 construction jobs and 900 full and part-time jobs. It is expected to open in 2013.

The Children’s National Museum is expected to open that year as well.
The land parceled to Disney, will be incorporated back into the harbor’s plan. There is no timetable on when the Peterson Companies will buy back the land property.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO