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BREAKING: GMU calls off plan for cricket and baseball stadium at Fairfax campus

George Mason University has been exploring plans to expand its West Campus off of Braddock Road (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) It has not been a great week for plans to bring professional sports teams to Northern Virginia.

Just a day after negotiations for a Washington Wizards and Capitals arena in Alexandria officially fell through, George Mason University has announced that it’s no longer planning to build a joint baseball and cricket stadium in Fairfax for the Washington Freedom.

“After hard work and due diligence from the team at Mason, we have concluded that this opportunity does not meet the strategic objectives and interests of our campus and community and the Washington Freedom,” GMU President Gregory Washington said in a statement. “We appreciate the continued feedback and dialogue with leaders across the Commonwealth and with the local community.”

The decision to part ways was mutual, according to a statement from the Washington Freedom, which indicated that it’s still looking to build a stadium somewhere in the D.C. area.

“While we have decided to go in a different direction, we are appreciative of the dialogue and partnership with GMU,” the team said. “We remain committed to working with the broader DMV community to grow the sport of Cricket in the region and to build a multipurpose stadium that will be the future home of the Washington Freedom.”

The university first announced in 2022 that it was partnering with Major League Cricket and Washington Freedom owner Sanjay Govil to study the feasibility of a multi-purpose facility at its West Campus that could host professional cricket matches and college baseball games.

GMU’s governor-appointed Board of Visitors gave university administrators the green light in January to start negotiating a ground lease for the prospective stadium site, which encompass 15 acres between Braddock Road and Campus Drive.

Though the project was still in the planning phase, Mason staff and Govil said at a virtual town hall on Jan. 29 that they hoped to finish construction on a temporary facility that could seat 7,000 to 10,000 spectators by 2025.

As the proposal gained more attention, residents of the area around GMU’s campus began to organize opposition, raising concerns about the potential traffic and environmental impacts, noise and light pollution, and a process they perceived as lacking in transparency.

In a Feb. 7 letter to elected officials, the GMU Board of Visitors and the GMU president’s council, a group of neighborhood associations working together as the GMU Braddock Road Adjacent Community Coalition called for a halt in the stadium project “until a thorough and proper evaluation can be accomplished with all affected parties in attendance.”

“While we recognize change is necessary it also needs to be targeted and sized appropriately to address known university problems with consideration of adjacent neighborhood concerns paramount,” the coalition wrote. “The creation of a commercial zone that benefits some and punishes others on state supported property is an egregious abuse of positional power.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors emphasized a year earlier the need for GMU to communicate its plans to the county government and residents. Supervisors saw potential in the stadium proposal as a recreational amenity and economic development opportunity, but they noted that the project doesn’t have to go through the same approval processes that would be required if it was on county or private land.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who represents the area around GMU’s campus, said the university has made decisions in the past that have “created some real challenges and animosity in the neighborhoods.”

“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,” Walkinshaw said during the board meeting on Feb. 21, 2023.

The concerns raised by residents prompted GMU to release an update on March 1 stressing that no construction on the stadium will start before there are “meaningful” discussions with the community.

“We hear and respect your questions and concerns about the timing of the project and whether neighbors will have the opportunity to be heard up front. We assure you that you will,” Washington and Govil said in the joint statement, noting that GMU was “in the advanced stages of scheduling in-person community meetings.”

According to the statement, the university and cricket team hoped that the stadium could host cricket matches starting in July 2025.

While it’s unclear what exactly changed in the past couple of weeks, Washington said in today’s statement that GMU is committed to working with “all stakeholders” as it explores expansion plans for its West Campus, which currently hosts a field house and several athletic fields and courts.

“Moving forward, the university will maintain a dialogue with all stakeholders and improve opportunities for feedback,” Washington wrote. “We remain committed to working together to grow the university and build a strong and sustainable infrastructure, including our athletics facilities, for everyone who participates with Mason.”

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