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ACVA Boat Tour Promotes National harbor

National Harbor could add 100,000 tourists annually to city.

He wasn't present but his spirit permeated the event; his clarion call was the mantra of the presentations. Jerry Maguire, as portrayed by Tom Cruise in the movie of the same name, would have been in hog heaven last Friday morning during the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association's Fun Side Forum boat trip to view the rising National Harbor convention/tourism destination site.

"Show me the money," as Maguire told Cuba Gooding time after time in the film, was definitely the message of the tour by representatives of National Harbor, Gaylord Hotels and Alexandria.

ACVA members and city residents were told Old Town "has to be made more attractive to those coming here." That was the word from Mark Jinks, deputy city manager for budget and finance. "When guests are coming you have to do a lot more. We have looked at ways to make Alexandria more attractive. Business people are going to have to spruce up their properties and stores are going to have to stay open longer," he told the crowd aboard one of the Potomac River Boats crafts, during the hour-long jaunt to the National Harbor shoreline.

Jinks did couch his remarks by assuring the audience, "We are not talking about major physical changes — more cosmetics. This project [National Harbor] is going to be a challenge to us. We are going to have competition."

ALEXANDRIA WAS NOT the only site taking a hit from the National Harbor and Gaylord hotels representatives. The District of Columbia didn't fare well either in the eyes of Bridget Graves, public relation director for National Harbor.

"Our research has shown that people don't want to come to Washington because it's all about politics. We are going to emphasize something different at National Harbor," she said.

In addition to increasing the size of the 2,000-room Gaylord Hotel, Graves revealed, National Harbor is "working on a lot of deals which we can't reveal at this time." One of those deals involves providing an additional 1,000 rooms in addition to Gaylord's 2,500 when the hotel opens in April 2008.

"We are breaking all records in booking hotel room nights prior to an opening," said Tina Sampson, vice president of sales and marketing for Gaylord National.

"Gaylord is a convention-oriented company. We are building on specifications geared to support meeting planners and what they want," she said.

THAT BLUEPRINT not only applies to the gargantuan Gaylord Hotel that forms the centerpiece of National Harbor, but also to the entire layout of the 528-acre project. Three hundred of those acres are on Prince George's County land while the remainder is Potomac River water acreage.

Included in the planning is a "Main Street" to be called "American Way." Ironically, it is modeled after a street in Italy that is a favorite of Milton V. Peterson, owner and CEO of The Peterson Companies — the entrepreneurial entity behind the overall project, according to Graves. "This will be a very business-oriented and active street," she said.

Although Graves characterized the District of Columbia as being "all politics," Peterson thought enough of one its landmark monuments to buy it and have it moved to the shoreline of his National Harbor. That is "The Awakening," which has been a tourist attraction at Hanes Point for many years.

Getting National Harbor tourists to and from Alexandria has taken a multi-faceted approach, according to Jinks. "We have been looking at all the possibilities over the last year. We [Council] have recently approved the water taxi program which will come and go from a slip near The Chart House," he said.

Those water taxis are no small run-abouts as found in Baltimore Harbor or Annapolis. They are large, double-decker crafts similar to the one used for the Fun Side tour. They will hold approximately 80 people each and operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, according to Potomac River Boat Company that will own and operate the boats.

"The water taxis will be equipped with flat screen televisions showing scenes of Alexandria … that will make the experience for our visitors much better," Jinks said.

LOCATED ON the Maryland shoreline immediately south the outer loop span of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, this 7,300,000 sq.ft. mixed use community will have as its cornerstone the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the largest non-gaming hotel and convention facility on the eastern seaboard.

All told, there will be a total of 4,000 hotel rooms, with four other properties joining the Gaylord. Upon completion the total project will include: One million sq.ft. of retail, dining, and entertainment space; 2,300 residential units; 500,000 sq.ft. of office space; four piers, including two marinas; and 10,000 on-site parking spaces.

Not just for tourists, National Harbor will offer a variety of residential possibilities including 250 Fairfield timeshare units. Other permanent residential choices will include 456 condominiums in the first three buildings. Sales of those units are now underway with 5,000 potential buyers on a waiting list, according to Graves.

Making use of its river access, the project will have a 700-foot-long commercial pier where the water taxis will come and go to Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon Estate, and Georgetown. Future routes are planned for Reagan National Airport and the Nationals' Baseball Stadium.

The marina will have 60 slips. Private slips will be 65 feet long and 45 feet wide in order to accommodate large pleasure craft. There will be two 10,000-sq.ft. platforms for corporate and private events. Gaylord National will have its own private pier for boating, fishing and other activities.

There will be direct access to the Capital Beltway. Those not using the water taxis are expected to drive to Alexandria and other tourism spots in the National Capital Region. That poses an additional challenge to the city's streets already struggling with oversized tourist buses interspersed with the everyday traffic of residents and businesses.

According to ACVA, Alexandria tourism spending presently is more than $600 million annually. It generates over $14 million in direct taxes and employees more than 9,000 people. They also claim "it contributes to the high quality of life for our residents."