SIMMONS: D.C. needs to promote itself big time

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A critical part of Vincent C. Grays job as mayor is to effectively market and promote the District and to bring home more than just the bacon, and yesterday he announced that he will lay the groundwork for doing precisely that next week.

His timing for rolling out his economic development plan is spot on for several reasons, chief among them the fact that the city is playing catchup to its build-it-and-they-will-come rivals.

The District faces stiff competition from both the burgeoning National Harbor in Prince Georges County and Baltimores Inner Harbor, which is poised to undergo a $900 million facelift that includes a new 500-room Sheraton Hotel, an expanded convention center and a 18,500-seat multipurpose arena to attract indoor soccer, NCAA basketball tournament games and other athletic and entertainment events.

Meanwhile, National Harbor is becoming an expendable-income magnet with plans to attract Mickey and Minnies caretakers, as well as premium outlets that could become the envy of upper Wisconsin Avenue, where upscale dining and shopping are part and parcel of the tony Chevy Chase community.

With its Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center opening, the mixed-use National Harbor is home to private residences with panoramic views of the Potomac River, and its commercial venues include diverse dining and entertainment spots and an open market that even lures faithfuls from Capitol Hills historic Eastern Market.

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, knows a serious competitor when he sees one.

When he was D.C. Council chairman, he tossed out an unforgettable two-liner after learning that the owners of the Washington Nationals were going to hold a major charitable event at National Harbor instead of in the city that build the team a ballpark.

“Charlie Brown or Rodney Dangerfield. We can’t get respect,” he said in 2007.

A couple of years later, the National Childrens Museum, once on Capitol Hill, and the Walt Disney Co. announced plans for their new family-themed attractions at National Harbor.

Now, comes word that developers are still going whole hog for regional dollars by way of National Harbor with a one-stop-shop proposal to open 80 or so designer and name-brand stores by way of Tanger Factory Outlets, which has successful ties Tommy Hilfiger Group, Saks, Brooks Brothers and other high-end retailers.

“It just fit our strategy for an outlet center,” Tanger spokeswoman Mona J. Walsh said. “Usually our threshold in developing a project is visibility. … The complex has that going for it.”

Expected to create an estimated 1,300 full- and part-time jobs, the outlet center could be open in time to attract 2012 Christmas dollars and appease taxpayers in Prince Georges County, the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation.

“Our residents have yearned for diverse shopping opportunities for years, and this will boost their options,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat, said last week.

News of the National Harbor project broke at last weeks International Council of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas, which the mayor and other D.C. officials attended.

Thing is, the big news for D.C. was that it was wooing Wegmans to open a supermarket on a parcel of land at the soon-to-be closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest.

Now, granted, fatback serves its purpose as a seasoning for collard greens, but as Mr. Baker said, todays shoppers want a bevy of options - and the District isnt meeting their needs.

Yesterday, at his weekly news briefing, the mayor seemed overly delighted to promote a partnership with CSX, the rail line that will bring as many as 1,800 jobs for a bridge project, but he was hard-pressed to explain how that project connects with sustainable economic development.

He promised to announce the “rollout of our efforts on economic development” on June 7 and 15.

Thats good, because the regional guys are going hog wild.

*Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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