Conversation brews over preserving the past, modernizing the future of East Austin youth complex

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The possibility of new leadership for an East Austin youth complex is stirring up conversations about how to celebrate the historic mission of the facility while also updating it for an evolving city.

The Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

The Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex (MYEC) is a 55,000 square foot indoor facility at the corner of Hargrave Street and Rosewood Avenue. The complex was designed to provide a safe space for families and young people. It includes a 154-seat movie theater, 16 bowling lanes, a roller skating rink, a video arcade, a children’s play area, food courts, and event space.

The complex is owned by the City of Austin and managed by SMG World, an entertainment facility management company. It opened on June 18, 1999 and though a city contest it was awarded a name that symbolizes the turn of the turn of the century.

On Thursday, Austin City Council will vote on two items related to the past and future of the complex.

  • The first is a resolution acknowledges the contributions of historic members of the Austin Rosewood Community Development Corporation — the body which oversees MYEC. The resolution also reinforces the city’s responsibility to make sure MYEC is a “viable public institution.” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison sponsored this resolution along with co-sponsors: Council members Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Paige Ellis, and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza.
  • In the second item, the council will vote on whether to appoint six new members to the Austin Rosewood Community Development Corporation: Jim Burns, Ghislaine Jean, AJ Bingham, Dr. Courtney Robinson, Quincy Dunlap and Francis Jordan. All of these people have been recommended by Harper-Madison. There are four vacancies on the board now and two current members will be stepping down. Board members Nelson Linder, Deborah Taylor King, and Barry Franklin will remain.

Harper-Madison hopes the new “rising local leaders” she’s recommending collaborate with the existing board members who have been advocates in the East Austin community for many years to continue, together fulfilling the mission of MYEC.

“It’s so important that they have the kind of institutional knowledge that we couldn’t possibly duplicate,” she said of the existing leaders on the board. “So I think it’s important to make sure everybody’s at the table.”

But now, 20 years after the facility opened its doors, the District 1 Council Member thinks that it may be time to look for opportunities to modernize the complex.

“The entertainment landscape has changed radically in the two decades since the Millennium first opened its doors, so it’s imperative that we continue to search for new ways to help the complex adapt and evolve while also ensuring that it stays true to its fundamental mission of providing safe, affordable, and high-quality recreational options for young people and their families,” she said in a release.

In an interview with KXAN Wednesday, Harper-Madison noted that her kids love going to the complex and that her daughter made friends with a future classmate recently while playing video games at MYEC.

“Part of the problem for me is watching my kids sometimes be the only kids in this space,” she said. “I know that we have the opportunity to make it the highest, best-use for an asset that the community has and holds.”

Does she think MYEC is being used to its fullest potential now?

“I think we have room to grow,” Harper-Madison replied. “But I think the folks who are behind-the-scenes, making moves from a managerial perspective and a governmental perspective, are doing their absolute best to make certain we are getting our absolute best use out of the space.”

She noted that with looming revenue caps and budget conversations for the city, “we need to make sure every asset we have as a community is being used to its highest fullest potential.”

History of the Millennium

A photo of Tamika Ross, who died after a shooting in 1992 when she was 16-years-old. Photo Courtesy MYEC website.

The creation of this entertainment center came after a tragedy in the Austin community coupled with momentum from community advocates.

The death of 16-year-old Tamika Ross in 1992 prompted community members to organize, looking to build a safe space for kids and young people to hang out. KXAN reported back in 1992 that Ross had been with friends at a church parking lot near Rosewood Avenue when she was shot and killed after a car drove by. The MYEC website explains, “a passing car slowed and shots shattered the night,” leaving Ross dead.

From that point forward, concerned youth and community members began talking with the city about ways to use entertainment to help reduce youth violence.

The MYEC logo, designed by Gerrell “GiGi” Jones. Image courtesy the MYEC website.

MYEC commemorates Ross’ life as well as the life of Juan Cotera — an ambitious young activist who was on the city’s advisory board guiding MYEC and who was murdered in July of 1997.

“If one life is spared because of this facility, then it has done more than what it was built to do,” David Townsend, Ross’ father told KXAN back in 1999.

“The Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex is a tangible symbol of the will to peaceful activism among east Austin youth” the website says.

Maintaining the complex for the future

A poster at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in Austin, August of 2019. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Harper-Madison said there is “absolutely” a need in east Austin to maintain this facility. In fact, she said, the need is growing.

“The evolution of communities will happen but the need for spaces like the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex has not been deterred one bit,” she said. “So moving forward, we need to make certain we’re mindful about how to utilize these brilliant community assets.”

She added that it’s too soon to tell what types of modernization MYEC might see with new members on its governing board.

Nelson Linder, a current Austin Rosewood Community Development Corporation board member and president of Austin’s NAACP, said that he believes MYEC has evolved over the last 20 years.

“We have a very diverse clientele of good people and I think that’s a good thing,” he said, noting that both people who live near MYEC and those who live farther away make use of the complex.

Linder said he has been involved unofficially with MYEC since it was built. Currently, he said NAACP offers programs at the complex including youth programs and voter registration efforts.

When it comes to MYEC, he worries about what he describes as, “resources, resources, resources.”

“I think the Millennium has done its job, but let’s be clear: it’s a partnership,” Linder said, suggesting the city needs to step up its support of the complex. “It can’t be the same thing it was in 2000, it’s got to be based on current rates and current technology, that’s a city responsibility.”

Linder said it is necessary to have some new appointments for the Austin Rosewood Community Development Corporation.

He supports the resolution to acknowledge the historic board members who made this facility possible.

“I think it’s overdue and very appropriate to thank those folks who’ve served, oftentimes in very difficult circumstances,” Linder said.

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