- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The prospect of a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill presents a number of economic opportunities in Charles County, but perhaps none more so than at Maryland Airport in Indian Head, which is in the final stages of a 20-year effort to expand its runway.
The Office of Regional Aviation Assistance, a section of the Maryland Aviation Administration, estimates that the casino could quadruple the number of flights to and from the airport from 12,000 to 48,000 annually, Charles County Department of Economic Development Director Kwasi Holman told the county commissioners Wednesday.
The increase in flights could mean an extra 100,000 annual visitors to the county, Holman said, “which creates the opportunity for other retail and other kinds of activities along that corridor to National Harbor, with almost half a million dollars in fuel sales.”
The airport generated $360,000 in fuel sales in 2011, according to a memo drafted by Holman.
The airport, which opened in 1945, received a $2.8 million federal grant in September to complete the third phase of the four-part project, which began in 1993.
Construction on the $30 million project started in earnest in 2009. Following completion, the runway will have been expanded from 3,000 feet to 4,300 feet, with the potential to extend to 5,000 feet. The airport also will provide parking for up to 70 aircraft.
“General aviation, as many know, took a significant hit post-9/11 because of the restrictions that were placed in the airspace over our area, so we’re real excited to have that here in Charles County,” commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said.
Gil Bauserman, the airport’s owner, said he plans to personally pilot the first flight — in a 1946 aircraft — when the expanded runway opens in late May or mid-June.
“I can’t wait to take a flight out of the airport,” commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) said.
“Because it’s in District 2, I was offered the first flight out,” said commissioner Debra Davis (D), who seemed a bit wary. “Bobby, I’ll gladly concede to you.”
Last year, state lawmakers and voters approved the construction of a new casino in Prince George’s County, the sixth in the state.
Though a final location has not been determined, it is widely anticipated that National Harbor will beat out Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington for the casino.
MGM Resorts International, considered the presumptive favorite to land the project, has proposed building an $800 million casino at National Harbor.
Based on projections that the project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent positions, and the fact that roughly 5 percent of Prince George’s County’s workforce lives in Charles County, Holman estimated that the casino could mean 300 jobs for local residents.
Holman noted that most of those jobs would be low-skilled and pay low wages, but his memo cited studies that found a general increase in wages and drop in welfare payments in areas around casinos. Unionized casino workers tend to have better-than-average health care and pension plans, the memo states.
“We think there will be some trickle-down job impacts for county residents in terms of what proceeds from the harbor and the associated activities,” Holman said. “They may not be high-paying jobs, but they will have an impact on our economy, and we hope some county residents are able to secure jobs, especially those casino dealer jobs, those that are, I gather, very lucrative.”
Holman said the increased traffic could attract hotels or retail outlets, “and if you have folks that are driving up and down the corridor, they’ll want to eat, so maybe there’s an opportunity for a restaurant.”
Commissioners’ president Candice Quinn Kelly (D) credited Bauserman, whose father Charles Bauserman built the airport, for securing the federal grants needed to fund the project.
“That is such a gem in our economic development crown,” Kelly said.
Bauserman said one group of investors has inquired about building a hotel on a piece of adjacent property.
“It would be nice to have a hotel on the west side [of the county],” he said. “Not a Super 8 now [or], you know, a Motel 6.”
Bauserman also said three limousine companies have expressed an interest in relocating closer to the airport, and that another investment group is looking into potentially building a maintenance facility for a specific type of Italian jet, which could mean lots of mechanics jobs.
“Italian jet? That’s a good thing,” Rucci said.
“There’s some things going, but not fast enough,” Bauserman said.
In addition to boosting tourism, the airport could potentially serve as a future testing and research site for unmanned aerial vehicles, Kelly said.
“That is truly the way of the future,” she said. “We see it’s a major presence at [the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County], and because of our little airport, and not so little anymore, we really are going to be able to play in that game.”
At the meeting, Robinson alluded to “some unexpected, exciting ventures will be coming forth soon” as a result of the casino project.
In a follow-up interview, Robinson said he was referring to a prospective collaboration between the College of Southern Maryland and George Washington University to offer a course in casino management at an undisclosed location in Waldorf.
Having worked on multimedia projects for the university, Robinson said he knew it was looking to foster relationships with local community colleges, and that he has long been interested in having a four-year institution establish a presence in the county.
“We are definitely at the preliminary stage, but there is extreme interest on the part of GW,” Robinson said, adding that the university is already working with the potential developer to incorporate casino management into its hospitality management program.