In the on-going fight over bringing gambling, gaming, casinos and or slots to Prince George's County, much time has been spent selling the proposal as good for the County as a whole. Interestingly enough, early on gambling in the county was sold as good for the historic horse racing industry. That pitch disappeared because the market interests of gambling no longer need the political cover provided by the racing industry. The apparent reshuffling of reasons is an example of why there is public distrust and consternation over the current marketing support strategy. Residents with long memories sense a three-card monte at work in the repeated, incessant selling of gambling at National Harbor as somehow in the self interest of most people in the county. And, this political approach has created controversy where little should be.
National Harbor is a signature development in and for Prince George's County and the Washington, D.C., region. It will produce jobs, and it will draw visitors to the county. The convention center and meeting spaces will be seen as a significant infrastructure available to businesses that might decide to locate in the area. In order to be competitive, National Harbor's management is seeking to overcome the challenges its convention marketplace faces. A few of the obstacles in front of National Harbor include a change in business and recreational travel dynamics over the last decade coupled with 21st century internet enabled meeting tools. National Harbor has to provide a wide, deep and full suite of supporting amenities and opportunities to encourage customers to make use of the capital investment in infrastructure. These important activities include retail, dining and recreational markets. And yes, in order to differentiate itself from a highly competitive marketplace regionally, nationally and even internationally, world class entertainment including gambling in the form of a casino creates a highly visible presence offering and enabling National Harbor and Prince George's County to make the sale.
None of this directly impacts the majority of Prince George's County residents except for the influx of dollars into the State and Counties coffers, thereby, purportedly off-setting the need for additional taxes or reduction of services. The project, instead of being sold to voters for what it is, an enhancement of National Harbor's strategic marketing position, has been couched in terms of a potential retention and enhancement of existing businesses and an attraction for new businesses through capital as if this will come automatically throughout the County. Moreover, the impact on the local community, which should include the preservation of historic housing and the creation additional housing which could contribute to ensuring the larger community remains demographically diverse is absent, because the entirety of the National Harbor concept is to create a self contained, self interacting world class complex that can offer its visitors everything they want or need. The resulting change to the existing community will be a creative reaction and response to the vibrant National Harbor complex.
The resulting mixed messages has obscured what is a good plan that should be sold as a dynamic convention center and meeting space/hospitality industry project that will ultimately provide a significant supporting role if and when the rest of Prince George's County gets around to inviting business investment in the County. But we need to be clear, National Harbor is not the ultimate in long term sustainable 21st century development producing highly skilled competitive jobs; it is rather part of a sophisticated infrastructure that would support such jobs created by next generation businesses choosing to locate here someday when the majority in the county stops letting the powerful few make all the policy decisions for them.
National Harbor will not fix the chronic lack of substantive, meaningful, economic development in Prince George's County. It is fortunate that National Harbor has the depth of assets and resources to fight the unpredictable nature of business decision making that the county seems determined to support. Small or mid-size, creative business are not financially able to deal with the unpredictable, inconsistent opaque, byzantine nature of the permitting and development process that is so connected to the whims of the political elite. There is nothing transparent about the development process in the county, making it a very expensive place in which to invest. National Harbor is not going to fix these structural problems in Prince George's County. We who can, however, must be careful not to allow the same internal political issues to cripple the project half-way through. If we are going to have a world class convention center as an important part of the County's infrastructure - and let me remind you the train has already left the station on this idea; it left when the project was approved conceptually over a decade ago - then working together, let's encourage them to pull out all the stops and build one (without tax dollars) that is the envy of the rest of the nation. We need the County to sell this project for what it is an what it could be per se.