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MGM casino to open Dec. 8 in National Harbor

A rendering shows the exterior of the MGM National Harbor Casino and Hotel. MUST CREDIT: Handout photo courtesy MGM National Harbor

A rendering shows the exterior of the MGM National Harbor Casino and Hotel. (Handout photo courtesy MGM National Harbor)

OXON HILL — MGM National Harbor will have its grand opening Dec. 8, officials announced Monday.

The $1.4 billion casino resort in suburban Washington will debut just in time for the holiday season, and in the next few months will announce an array of inaugural events and functions at its live entertainment venue.

Casino executives promise an experience unlike that offered by their other properties – a boutique-style hotel, integrated 3,000-seat theater, conference center, art, myriad dining options at different prices, and a conservatory with flower sculptures that officials hope will become a must-have backdrop for selfies. Oh, and then there is the casino.

“When people come see it, they are going to be awestruck,” said Bill Boasberg, the resort’s general manager. “There is going to be something for everyone in this resort. We are not just targeting casino customers.”

The resort will begin taking reservations Monday to stay at the property beginning Dec. 10.

If table games and slot machines on a 125,000-square-foot casino floor don’t appeal to you, Boasberg said, there are plenty of other entertainment options for tourists and Washington-area residents alike, not to mention an outdoor patio space for viewing sunsets. The resort’s design allows guests looking for dining or entertainment to avoid the casino altogether.

“When we go around the region to speak, people get very excited for these different offerings,” Boasberg added.

The 24-story luxury hotel promises to offer style and exclusivity, officials said. With more than 300 rooms – compared with MGM Grand’s 5,600 in Las Vegas – the floor-to-ceiling glass-windowed suites will run between $399 and $599 per night.

The complex’s construction took longer than expected in what was a complicated build on a 23-acre parcel of land overlooking the Potomac River. It involved hauling hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of soil and updating plans to fit the aesthetic that casino officials were looking for, Boasberg said. Costs increased half a billion dollars over the original estimate.

Under an agreement with the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, MGM was obligated to open in August, but the panel granted the company a six-month extension, giving it until February to begin operations.

Boasberg said officials don’t have estimates yet for how many people to expect during opening week, but he said the roads will be ready for the traffic influx – a worry for nearby residents.

Vehicle traffic to National Harbor could more than double when the resort opens, according to projections. If estimates hold true and up to 20,000 daily visitors frequent the gambling resort, there could be backups with heavier volumes on Interstate 95 around the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Maryland-Virginia border.

Late last month, National Harbor and casino officials announced $10 million in road improvements – from road widening to new interstate access – to be completed before the resort’s opening to help improve traffic flow in one of the most congested areas in the region.

National Harbor and nearby Tanger Outlets draw thousands of visitors each weekend. New inbound and outbound lanes from nearby interstates will ease the flow of vehicles into the resort complex, which will be open 24 hours.

“Residents are looking forward to having another entertainment venue to go to, not just for the gambling, but the performances that are expected to be there and the restaurants and shopping venues,” said Zeno St. Cyr, a community leader. “But along with that anticipation for the opening, there’s also a little apprehension and the apprehension is for the traffic that is expected, especially in the days and weeks after opening.”

But it’s not just the guests. The new entertainment venue will bring thousands of commuters to the area for work. Boasberg said the complex has hired about 350 employees and has extended employment offers to more than 2,200 people.

Of those hires, about 40 percent must be Prince George’s County, Maryland, residents, according to the commitments MGM made to the county in winning the sixth and final casino license in the state. Boasberg said MGM has met those goals.

As of June, MGM National Harbor paid more than $220 million to minority businesses and awarded 148 firms contracts during the construction. Local businesses received $170 million in payments and 88 local firms won contracts – exceeding the benchmarks outlined in a community benefits agreement that elected leaders negotiated with the company, officials said.

MGM officials said more opportunities are ahead for local businesses, from their artistic displays to supplying many culinary offerings.

The hotel resort’s centerpiece will be a two-story glass-covered atrium featuring a horticultural showcase composed of more than 70,000 flowers designed into art pieces. The company also commissioned works from local artists and a piece by music legend Bob Dylan.

In one of the resort’s celebrity restaurants, chef José Andrés plans to incorporate local Chesapeake Bay fare into his new seafood restaurant – also expected to open in early December. Many of the menu offerings will be familiar to East Coast residents – clam chowder, Crab Louie – but will feature culinary touches of Andrés’s native Asturias, a region in Spain.

“The outdoor terrace will be neat place where we will re-create the crab-house experience when the weather is warm,” Andrés said. “I will also bring in what I love, which is eating seafood with cider. . . . It will be a Spain-meets-Maryland experience.”

Andrés plans to offer local ciders and import his Spanish favorites. Small plates – a chef speciality – will have a place on the menu, as will an oyster recipe he has been working on for five years. He said he also wants to serve snakehead, an invasive species of fish taking over local Bay ecosystems, to expose diners to an environmental problem that can also be a tasty dish

“There are plenty of good fish people haven’t tried before,” Andrés said. “It’s about restaurants giving it an opportunity.”

Boasberg offered few other details about MGM National Harbor’s debut, saying much of it is still in the planning phase. But he has no doubt that the resort’s timing (near the holidays), location (at the locus of three major population centers) and amenities will make this property one of MGM’s most successful.

“Given our extensive investment, we are extremely excited and very positive on what we are going to do,” Boasberg said about the casino’s future revenues. “We are not giving out specific numbers, but we think we have the best location and think it’s second to none. We couldn’t be more excited.