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Potential GMU cricket facility has county board intrigued but cautious

A cricket player at bat (via michael weir on Unsplash)

Fairfax County officials are guarding their wickets carefully as they size up a recent pitch for a possible cricket and baseball facility at George Mason University.

The Board of Supervisors directed county staff last week to monitor and get involved in a feasibility study that Mason and Major League Cricket (MLC) initiated in November.

Since the study is still in its early stages, major questions remain, including what sites are being considered, but there is definitely demand for a regulation cricket pitch, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said.

“I’m just interested in seeing if we have the opportunity to at least have a conversation and to see if there’s any feasibility on this coming to fruition,” Lusk said during the Feb. 21 meeting. “…There are many in the community who have been asking for this and would really enjoy having this opportunity to play cricket in a facility of this nature.”

GMU announced on Nov. 29 that it’s collaborating with MLC to study the possibility of building a multi-purpose facility that could host international-level cricket games as well as the university’s baseball team.

Funding for the study comes from technology entrepreneur Sanjay Govil, a founding investor in MLC, according to the press release. The group aspires to have an operational facility that would serve as a home for an MLC franchise by summer 2025.

A regulation cricket field is the size of three baseball fields, making it “extremely difficult to assemble” within the Fairfax County Park Authority’s standard field dimensions, Lusk and Herrity said in their joint board matter.

“This innovative approach has the potential to fill a recreational void in our community, provide a multi-use amenity of benefit to the entire county, and generate a meaningful economic impact as the sole facility of its kind in the region,” the board matter said.

In the community immediately surrounding GMU’s Fairfax campus, however, the proposal may face an uphill battle.

Though he expressed support for both GMU and cricket, Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw warned it will be “really important to manage this process” to avoid a repeat of “some decisions that the university made that created some real challenges and animosity in the neighborhoods.”

He didn’t specify which decisions he was referring to, but he noted that the proximity of Mason’s existing athletic facilities on the west campus to residential neighborhoods “has presented a lot of challenges over the years.” In addition, one possible, currently undeveloped site at Braddock and Shirley Gate roads is in the Occoquan Watershed.

The new facility’s potential traffic impact could also be an issue. An extension of Shirley Gate Road from Braddock to Fairfax County Parkway is in the works, but that’s about it for planned road improvements in the area, according to Walkinshaw.

“If we’re going to be building a facility here that will bring large groups of people, the university’s got to take some responsibility for how people are going to get to and from the campus, because the existing transportation network doesn’t support it,” he said.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay concurred that the county needs to approach the proposal “with our eyes wide open,” noting that GMU-owned properties aren’t subject to local land use review processes like private or county developments.

The One University and Capstone housing projects near the university campus, for instance, may have ruffled feathers, but the public was still guaranteed opportunities to provide input.

“Unlike the county, [GMU doesn’t] go through our regular land use process,” McKay said. “That’s one of the reasons you’re hearing some of the caution flags about making sure this process works right and the board is informed of what’s going on.”

Photo via michael weir/Unsplash