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The Mason Inn: The educated guest

Courtesy Mason Inn

Tucked behind trees in Fairfax, Va., one of the country’s most affluent communities, George Mason University (GMU) in 40 years has mushroomed from a commuter college with 17 students to Virginia’s largest four-year institution of higher education. Some 34,000 students are enrolled at its four campuses.

One of the recent additions to GMU’s growing Fairfax campus is the Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel, which opened in July 2010.

Located on the southern end of the walkable campus, the 148-room hotel has a 120-seat restaurant with a private dining room for 15, a lounge and 20,000 square feet of meeting space that is accredited by the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC).

In April, Crestline Hotels and Resorts assumed management of the property. Crestline manages 48 hotels, resorts and conference centers in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Mason took a stand

George Mason University is named for George Mason, a Founding Father whose name is not a household word.

A Virginia delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mason decided not to sign the document because it lacked protection for state and individual rights. He achieved those goals when 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution. They were based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which Mason had drafted a decade earlier.

Mason is remembered in the design of the inn. Its restaurant, Boxwoods, is named for the 250-year-old boxwoods that line paths behind his home, Gunston Hall. Bowls of green apples greet guests just as they once did in Mason’s home; carpets are embedded with his script and the hotel’s book-lined lounge, the Well, recalls the inkwell into which Mason dipped his pen.

A wing for meetings

The one-floor IACC conference center, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certified, is decorated in earth tones of pumpkin and eggplant. Located in a wing to the left of the hotel’s entrance, the conference center has two ballrooms and 10 meeting rooms, five for groups of 20 to 50 people and five for breakouts of 10 or fewer.

The hotel’s presidential suite has a balcony and can be used for a small meeting or reception. It has two adjoining guest rooms.

“We are best for small and medium-size meetings,” said Lyn Locke, director of sales and marketing, “although we can tent the courtyard for an event for 1,000.”

The 5,000-square-foot grand ballroom can be divided into three sections, each with drop-down screens and the latest in projection equipment. A prefunction space opens to a courtyard and is suited for receptions of up to 150.

A 2,000-square-foot ballroom can be divided into two spaces.

Technology is a priority
Among the center’s midsize meeting rooms is one that is government secure, a natural, given that Washington is 30 minutes away. “It has laser-proof windows, extra soundproofing and its own IP address so connections can’t be tapped,” said Locke. In terms of technology, the inn is up-to-date, and Crestline apparently plans to keep it that way.

“We can do videoconferencing of any sort, including high-definition and satellite connections,” Locke said. “The whole building is wireless, and we can provide wired connections if needed. And soon you will be able to control your AV with your iPhone.”

Given its university location, parking could be an issue; but the Mason Inn is blessed with parking that is ample and free, and has a garage with an elevator to guest rooms. Other services include a 24/7 business center equipped with Apple and personal computer equipment, and a student concierge who is on duty whenever a meeting is under way to suggest activities and provide directions.

Charlena McCuin, a conference services manager, works closely with planners to pin down details. She knows what guests like.

“The food is first,” she said. “We have a new chef and a 31-day menu rotation so people never have to have the same thing.”

“Today it might be Cajun, tomorrow Asian or home cooking,” said Shawn McCarthy, restaurant manager.

“People also like the modern but rustic decor [wood used in the decor is recycled] and the attentive service from staff at the front desk,” McCuin said.