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Gaylord ready for its guests

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 1, 2008

With its first convention in town today, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is open for business.

Gaylord National anchors the $2 billion National Harbor development in Prince George's County, just across the Potomac River, below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

By far the largest hotel at National Harbor, where a Westin and a Marriott are scheduled to open next month, the 18-floor, 2,000-room Gaylord offers something most other area hotels and convention centers do not: open space.

The $800 million Gaylord development is based around its proximity to Washington and a wide-open harbor area reminiscent of Baltimore's center. The hotel has its own boat dock and will have a crab restaurant on the pier.

Gaylord eventually hopes to begin a water-taxi service to take guests to Georgetown, Alexandria or the new National's ballpark. Also nearby is "The Awakening," a sculpture of a giant emerging from the beach, which spent 27 years at Hains Point in the District before relocating to the National Harbor.

It is this experience that gives it a favorable contrast to the Washington Convention Center. Although the center is about 2½ times larger than the Gaylord, nearby lodging has proved difficult to organize, said Amie Gorrell, the hotel's public relations director. The accessibility of the Gaylord National is a main selling point to convention planners.

Conventions are expected to be the main source of revenue for the hotel. Others are the five restaurants and several retail stores selling merchandise ranging from hotel trinkets to pajamas.

"We expect our business to be about 80 percent conventions," said Nicholas Miller, a Gaylord spokesman.

While the grand opening is set for April 25, the Gaylord will host automaker Saturn's annual retailer business conference this week. Immediately afterward, the hotel will set up for its first trade show, the Army Aviation Association of America, which has rented the entire property and will bring in helicopters.

The hotel's largest booking to date is the Texas State Society banquet in January. The black-tie event celebrating George W. Bush's presidency will have about 15,000 guests.

Prince George's County Police Department spokeswoman Cpl. Diane Richardson declined yesterday to give details about police presence at the National Harbor, but said the cost of patrolling the 300-acre development was factored into the department's budget.

"We're not going to discuss our tactical issues publicly," she said. "We assure that the appropriate resources will be devoted."

With hotel rooms starting at $299 a night, the Gaylord hopes to join the ranks of the Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental as a luxury hotel serving the District and surrounding areas. The hotel also has plans to offer a more reasonable price to locals when it is not filled. Suites range from $1,100 to $11,000.

The hotel also tries to re-create and highlight what is unique to Washington. The chain's signature restaurant, the high-end Old Hickory Steak House, was designed to mimic the look of a Georgetown town house, equipped with smaller rooms and ornate moldings. One of the retail shops in the Gaylord's enormous atrium is made to look like a row house in Old Town Alexandria.

"This place is peerless," said Donny Barnes, a bellhop and D.C. native who lives in Anacostia and worked at the Hotel Washington before it closed for renovations. "It's like working with your family."