BRONZEVILLE — It’s official: The cultural venue HotHouse is coming to the South Side.
Several months after launching a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $250,000 to buy the Donnelly Youth Center, 3947-3953 S. Michigan Ave., Hothouse founder Marguerite Horberg announced Wednesday she’s finalized the paperwork to bring the beloved cultural hotspot to the neighborhood.
The 24,000-square-foot building will become a “multipurpose facility,” hosting arts programs, social justice projects and a restaurant. Over 16 years after closing its South Loop location, Horberg eyed a building across the street from the youth center for HotHouse’s revival.
When that didn’t pan out, she pivoted to the youth center site that will be HotHouse’s new home.
The first building was adjacent to several vacant lots, which she envisioned transforming into a park. Thankfully, the Donnelly Center had a yard — the Lou Jones Garden — and murals that were important to the community.
“We really wanted to create a destination that was really kind of breaking the mold of a performing arts center, so we really wanted outdoor space,” Horberg said. “It was really important to us to create a sanctuary for outdoor programming and the rich arts programming that we were interested in.”
Now that HotHouse has a permanent home, Holberg has tapped DMAC Architecture & Interiors to bring the vision to life. The campus will include a box office, coat check, performance space/dance hall for 250 people, along with a restaurant, administrative offices and meeting rooms.
Visitors will also have access to a greenhouse that will connect to an open garden, where they can shop at a bodega that sells local produce, artisanal goods and other convenience items.
“We won’t be far from the Bronzeville Trail or the South Side Community Art Center, and we’ve been in contact with some of the people working on the trail — and other neighbors,” Horberg said. “We’ve been building these relationships for years, so it’s helped.”
HotHouse is aiming to open by the end of 2025. The venue is preparing for an onsite festival in the fall, Horberg said.
The move to Bronzeville marks the latest chapter for the cultural institution. But not everyone was on board with the move, especially when HotHouse had spent so many years in the South Loop.
The venue made the move from the North Side in 1995 with help from the MacArthur Foundation and hosting world-renowned artists, including Gil Scott-Heron. Its globally inclusive programming attracted over 70,000 people annually as it grew into a $2 million organization with 45 employees, according to its website.
HotHouse was forced to close in 2007 after settling a lawsuit with its landlord over property taxes. That sparked the search for the cultural institution’s new home base.
“At the time we were pursuing the [South Side] site, the area was really completely underdeveloped,” Horberg said. “It was not too long after most of the public housing had been planned out and there was almost zero commercial development. So people didn’t consider the site a viable commercial destination.”
Local officials like Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) did, though, and helped the cultural entrepreneur with efforts to acquire the center. The city’s Department of Planning and Development made the process a little easier as well, she said.
Still, Horberg found the support from other areas lacking. The online fundraiser netted $150,000 of the $250,000 goal. Given HotHouse’s contribution to the cultural landscape, Horberg found herself frustrated by the painfully slow process due to the lack of funding, making it impossible to quicken the pace.
“Up until about maybe four or five years ago — before like, COVID money came into the city and through federal programs — nobody wanted to fund capital projects,” Horberg said. “Nobody wanted to fund the brick-and-mortar projects.”
As a woman who had been in the business for 40 years, the idea that some didn’t believe she knew what she was doing was hard to reconcile, Horberg said.
“And I think there was always kind of this paternalistic idea that artists and arts organizations don’t understand real estate and they certainly need adult supervision,” Horberg said.
One of the lessons Horberg learned after shutting down the South Loop location was to own the space outright. She would no longer rely on the whims of people who could destroy her business, she said.
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