YouthLink 2000 advance planning locks up valuable millennial venues

by Celeste Pennington, posted Thursday, April 22, 1999 (20 years ago)

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--First MTV, then the Church of Scientology requested space last year for new millennium celebrations at the Tampa Ice Palace, a beautiful venue overlooking Tampa Bay. Because YouthLink 2000 already had the 20,000 capacity dome under contract, each group was turned away.

As the dawn of the millennium approaches, the foresight of YouthLink 2000 planners has left them in an enviable position among millennial party-planners -- many of whom have been left waiting in the wings waiting for prime meeting venues. As early as 1996, planners for YouthLink 2000 -- the millennial event for 200,000 teenage and college students -- had under contract most of its seven venues across the United States.

Perhaps the resolve on the part of YouthLink 2000 to hold its space has surprised a few, like the Church of Scientology. They first made an offer to buy out its contract -- -at a nice profit for YouthLink 2000. After that was turned down, in January the Church of Scientology offered free use of costly sound and light setup if YouthLink 2000 would give up two days of occupancy. Concerned for its own full schedule and the quality of its event, YouthLink 2000 once again said no.

In Philadelphia, negotiations are currently under way over space in the Philadelphia Convention Center. This time the mayor's millennium committee would like to share use of the elegant Grand Hall (the converted century-old Reading Terminal Train Shed with its soaring 90-foot, sky-lit ceiling) where on Dec. 29 & 30 YouthLink 2000/Philadelphia will hold pizza parties and other gatherings.

"The shock for the city of Philadelphia is that this venue is part of the city, and the mayor's committee was not aware that the space was under contract," notes Charles Snow, site coordinator for YouthLink 2000/Philadelphia.

While other groups are just now scrambling to put together large millennium events, the vision for YouthLink 2000 came in the 1980s to Southern Baptists Richard Ross, one of the originators of True Love Waits, and Dean Finley who brought W.O.W (Win Our World) and See You At the Pole to the denomination. Their life’s work has been with students: Finley at the North American Mission Board and Ross at LifeWay Christian Resources. For this moment in history they wanted to offer a quality event that would touch the lives of the 170,000-plus teenagers who annually attend Southern Baptist youth evangelism meetings and related events.

In 1989, Finley and Ross sat down to share their vision with a small group of denominational leaders. By 1992, they had formed a steering committee to explore the idea seriously and to seek bids on a management plan. Realizing the potential to challenge hundreds of thousands of young people with the gospel, in 1995 agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention -- now LifeWay Christian Resources, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and Woman's Missionary Union -- agreed to fund the dream.

In 1997-98 YouthLink 2000 set up offices near the seven YouthLink 2000 sites which will be tied together by satellite, and volunteers began to design the event for each city.

The result of the early planning: hosts on talk radio in Houston these days are puzzling over some group called YouthLink 2000 that has locked up most hotels around that city for New Year's Eve 1999.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, YouthLink 2000 -- currently set for the Georgia World Congress Center with its 30,000 capacity -- is eyeing a first option on the 70,000-seat Georgia Dome. If the date ultimately chosen for the Peach Bowl allows it, YouthLink 2000 is first in line for the space.

For more information about YouthLink 2000, 1-888-YOUTHLK. Registration is $60 now; $75 after Aug. 1 and $90 after Oct. 1.

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