Fairfax city council discusses future of downtown with Mason student government

Members of the Fairfax city council expressed interest in associating the city more with the university (photo by John Irwin).
Members of the Fairfax city council expressed interest in associating the city more with the university (photo by John Irwin).

Representatives from George Mason University Student Government met with the full Fairfax City Council to discuss the relationship between the city and the university.

The special session, held on Feb. 19 in Mason Hall, focused on encouraging more students to spend time in Old Town Fairfax, located less than a mile north of the Fairfax campus.

“We know that you have great interest in our downtown and some of the development and redevelopment issues that have been ongoing,” said Scott Silverthorne, mayor of the City of Fairfax. “Frankly, we thought it would be helpful tonight to have a broad discussion about what you all see as important for our downtown.”

The council and three members from Mason Student Government discussed different ways to attract more students downtown.

Alex Williams, student body president, said that it was important for the city to consider its identity in relation to the university.

“I know one of the words that a lot of people are afraid of is ‘college town,’” Williams said. “They don’t want to see Fairfax City, and I think a lot of students also would agree with this, become what they envision a college town is. They want Fairfax City to keep serving them in a way that has served them for in some cases generations.”

Williams said that while the city is technically a college town, it could still retain its own identity.

“How does Fairfax City define for itself what a college town is? How are we going to make the college town? How do we define it for ourselves? And I see that sort of underlying this entire conversation of the relationship,” Williams said.

City council members responded positively to being more associated with Mason.

“Speaking personally I certainly want George Mason University to be associated with the City of Fairfax more so than the county of Fairfax,” said Councilmember Daniel Drummond.

Jeffrey Greenfield, another councilmember and Mason alumnus, announced that he would propose painting “Welcome to Mason Nation” at major intersections throughout the city during the city’s budget session this year.  

“We are the home of George Mason University. I think it sends the signal to your parents as they come to town, to the students as they come back . . . that you’re home,” Greenfield said.

Councilmembers and student government representatives also discussed the possibility of increasing housing availability in the area.

“We are looking to attract the younger demographic,” said Councilman Michael Demarco.

Dilan Wickrema, a student senator, said that increasing housing would benefit the student population.

“Looking off campus for housing…it’s really hard to find housing that is specifically for students,” Wickrema said. “There’s different areas around campus that a lot of students live in, but there’s not one area where it’s just students or recent graduates that live in that area. One opportunity is to make an area for recent graduate housing or student housing…suiting it not only to their taste, but how much they can pay for it.”

Silverthorne encouraged Mason students to pay attention to future housing issues that come up in the future.

“Housing is going to be an important issue in the next year in the city,” Silverthorne said. “I would hope that you all would think about that, pay attention, watch what’s going on . . . because I think it will impact students, it will impact graduate students, it will impact faculty, it will impact everybody.”

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