Tim League

Mattias Marasigan watches “The Karate Kid” at Community First! Village on Tuesday night. The Community First! Village is an affordable housing neighborhood for the homeless that has partnered with Alamo Drafthouse to bring outdoor screenings to the community.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Combine a chicken coop, a community garden, permanent tents and a drive-in theater, and you get The Community First! Village — a master-planned community serving Austin’s homeless population.

In August of 2014, Alan Graham, founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, began construction of Community First! Village, an affordable, alternative housing community for the homeless. Graham partnered with other Austin business owners, including Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League, to create a community of micro-homes, teepees and RVs located seven miles outside of Austin. 

The community will offer a variety of amenities to residents, such as an outdoor movie theater and medical clinic. Mobile Loaves & Fishes mission workers will live in RVs and volunteer on the property. During high-capacity events in Austin, such as ACL and South By Southwest, the RVs will be marketed toward visitors as an alternative to hotels. 

“We believe that Community First! is a movement that’s sparked here in Austin,” Graham said. “It’s a movement that says housing will never solve homelessness, but community will.” 

Applicants for the program must be unaccompanied men or women who have a disabling condition and have been chronically homeless on the streets of Austin for over a year. Residents will pay between $180 to $210 to live in the fully furnished RVs, teepees and micro-homes. 

Although Graham said the village will be open by early summer, the road to the opening has at times been rocky. Over the course of the last four years, the city put a halt on the planning process twice as a result of zoning issues and neighborhood conflicts. Some Austin citizens were reluctant about opening the homeless community in their neighborhoods, League said. 

After League noticed Austin’s overwhelming homeless population during the construction of the Sixth Street Alamo Ritz, he reached out to Graham to help sway the neighbors.

“I was thinking, ‘What could we do to the project to turn the frown upside-down in terms of how neighborhoods react to putting something like this here?’” League said. “I was thinking about things that could be an asset to the community.”

In order to offer an amenity the whole community would appreciate, League donated an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor theater that screens free movies for the Community First! Village.

League asked Liz Lambert, founder of San Jose Hotel on South Congress, to contribute to the project because of her experience creating simple, commercially successful properties. Lambert designed the retro RVs, situated in front of the outdoor theater, which will double as rentable bed-and-breakfasts. 

“We cannot transactionally change homelessness, but we can relationally change homelessness,” Graham said. “Movements like this — when they start catching on — start attracting people from multiple different places. They are inspired by it and want to be apart of a community.”

The clinic will offer physical and mental health screenings for residents and for anyone from the surrounding neighborhood. For the convenience of residents, Graham successfully lobbied to have city bus routes extended to the site.

League said he hopes the village will change the “not in my backyard” mentality people often have about homelessness.

“What [Graham] produced here — I think is really revolutionary,” League said. “If you look forward 25 years, something like this could be built in every southern, warm city in the U.S. and could make a phenomenal difference in a lot of people’s lives. It’s a far cry from a housing project.” 

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

The path of an entrepreneur can be very risky to undertake, said Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

League, who spoke Wednesday at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, described the hardships of breaking into the entrepreneurial world at a talk that was part of UT Entrepreneurship week — a series of lectures designed to encourage students to develop their own businesses.

“You have to be prepared for the absolute worst — like bankruptcy, losing all your relationships and completely ruining your reputation.” League said. “Yeah, if you’re not comfortable with that, pick a different career path.”

An important rule for young entrepreneurs is that they be frugal with expenses, which includes self-education to save on expenses, League said.

“In the early days, instead of spending $20,000 on a lawyer, we learned to do contracts on our own,” League said. “It is possible, and vital, to learn any trade as an entrepreneur.” 

League pursued a career in engineering before he leased a movie theater at the age of 23 with no prior business knowledge. The theater failed after two years, but it provided an entrepreneurial education, League said.

“My wife and I spent $5,000 a year total on personal expenses,” League said. “We literally lived behind the big movie screen, and we would shower in the mop closet.”

After this, League moved to Austin to open Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. He revolutionized movie theaters by providing an eclectic movie selection and a dine-in experience, interview conductor Nick Spiller said. 

Promoting innovative ideas and programs is a key to success, according to League. He said an example of this would be showing international movies that would otherwise not have an American release.

“I worked at the Alamo Drafthouse, and we had a program that featured Asian films once a month,” finance sophomore Johnny Vo said.

The dine-in experience is a key feature of the Alamo Drafthouse, an idea that was rooted in entrepreneurial curiosity and willingness to find inspiration anywhere, according to League.

“My wife and I spent our honeymoon spying on a movie theater that partnered with restaurants,” League said. “We liked that as a distinguishing factor.”

When they attempted to get a wine license, they discovered there is a manner of discrimination against young entrepreneurs that is very rampant.

“I looked too young, so I had to hire a middle-aged white guy in a suit to get the license. Then, I had no problem,” League said. “You have to accept this discrimination is there — just learn to play it.”