Student organizations have recently found difficulty in booking events in the Mason’s Global Center Grand Ballroom due to pricing changes as the ballroom transitions from a hotel to a university space.
Mason’s Office of Events Management manages the use of the Global Grand Ballroom through 25Live, Mason’s online scheduling system.
According to Director of Strategic Communications Michael Sandler, departments and student organizations are charged $645 for an event in the ballroom. This includes standard set up and housekeeping. Organizations are also charged $12 an hour for on-site support during the event.
After changes to the ballroom pricing began to impact student organizations, they were brought to the attention of Student Body President Phil Abbruscato.
“We all have a pretty general consensus that it’s not fair to student organizations,” Abbruscato said. “I understand the reasoning, our student activities fees are detracted to use ballroom in the Globe but I don’t think that’s fair.”
Storm Paglia, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, tried to schedule an event in August for his fraternity in the ballroom through 25Live. He later received an email from Event Management that pricing was currently unavailable, although it could be as high as $2,000, and that the fraternity would be unable to book the space for their event.
“I think that’s a ridiculous fee,” Paglia said. “It’s our building and university property and the tuition and fees that everyone pays on this campus contributes to the operations of it.”
External clients are charged $2,300 plus $12 an hour for onsite support, according to Sandler. The fees are cut in half if the client only uses half of the space.
According to JJ Davis, senior vice president for Administration and Finance, despite the transition from the Mason Inn to the Global Center, Mason still wanted to extend the use of the ballroom to groups both within the university and in the community.
“Our view is that the ballroom is prime real estate for [Mason]. In the short term while we don’t have a total need for it, we should still make it available through events management for a fee,” Davis said.
The university offers two similar event spaces for student use for free, including Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center, which has a open, maximum capacity of 900, and the Hub Ballroom, with a maximum capacity of 750.
However, Paglia feels that these spaces do not compare to the quality of the Grand Ballroom, which has a maximum capacity of 500.
“I think that we should be entitled, as student organizations, to be using this space because it is the nicest space on campus and really the only place [student organizations] can hold a nice event,” Paglia said.
Kayla Hirsch, vice president of risk management for Alpha Phi, attempted to book the space this past August. However, unlike Paglia, she was told that her organization could book the space starting Sept. 1.
Hirsch succeeded in reserving the ballroom, but her organization needs to complete a checklist to successfully book the space.
Though she is still in the process of completing the checklist, Hirsch was emailed the student organization price of $645 for the ballroom just this past week.
According to Davis, the prices are based on market rates and try to keep prices competitive with similar event spaces in the area. This differs from when the Mason Inn operated the space, when, according to Davis, the rooms were priced out of market.
Last spring, Alpha Phi held an event in the same ballroom at the Mason Inn, but the event was priced over $5,000. This charge did include catering, room set-up, a bar with wristbands for attendees over 21 and an event coordinator.
According to Davis, events management does not believe that they will make a profit off of the spaces and that the prices cover costs of the staff and labor time.
“If it were heavily used by the outside, maybe, but it’s not really branded to the outside community,” Davis said.
However, despite a significant cost reduction, Paglia feels that adding a cost for student organizations defeats the purpose of the Global Center, the intention of which the university has said is to bring domestic and international students together.
“It’s an injustice to keep the general student population from using this building, even though it’s designed to be the Global Center, the end goal was to bring together international students with the student population and by keeping [students] out of there with this fee, is only going against the mission of the Global Center,” Paglia said.
Abbruscato echoed Paglia’s feelings, stating that forcing students to pay for the space is not conducive to the purpose of the Global Center. He also added that he was hoping to talk with the appropriate administrators in the coming weeks to figure out what they can do to elevate the financial burden for student organizations to have access to this space.
“You’re trying to create a culture where student organizations are able to have their events and when you put a burden like that on it, it’s counterintuitive,” Abbruscato said.
While Abbruscato hopes the event space could eventually be free for student use, he realistically hopes that the price could decrease to something more feasible for all student organizations without increasing student fees.
“That’s a pretty enormous [price] for some student organizations that might not be able to attain that funding,” Abbruscato said. “It’s not fair to them.”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 6 edition of Fourth Estate.
*Mr. Abbruscato would like to clarify that student activities fees are not detracted to use the Grand Ballroom in the Global Center.