DOING GOOD IN HIS HOOD: Comedian Hannibal Buress, a West Side native, is seeking community input ahead of launching his community center. | Submitted photo

Comedian Hannibal Buress is trying to redevelop a vacant Galewood office building into a community arts center. But before actual construction starts, he wants to engage with residents about his proposal, offer activities for them to get interested in technology and get their ideas for the community space.  

On March 30, at the Bethel New Life complex, 4950 W. Thomas Street, Buress held a pop-up event designed to accomplish those goals. During the event, local young people and their families got an opportunity to experience virtual reality and augmented reality technology. 

The next event is scheduled to take place sometime this summer, but exact times, dates and locations weren’t finalized by press time. 

Two years ago, Buress purchased the Monumental Office building, 6120-6114 W. North Ave., in order to turn it into the Melvina Masterminds Community Arts Center. Buress said that the arts center would provide opportunities for local young people. Buress said that he named the center after the West Side street he grew up on. 

In a speech during the pop-up event, Buress said that he wanted to do something that he was sure would help the community.

“It happened because I was giving money to these charities, but I don’t know what they even do with that money,” Buress said. “You just write a check and you feel good and you get it written off on your taxes.”

He added that he hoped that the community center would become a neighborhood asset that would have a snowball effect. 

During the pop-up, residents got a chance to see renderings of the renovated building and the proposed floor plans. Organizers did not allow reporters to take photos of the renderings. 

The renderings show that much of the original building’s basic structure will be preserved, but interiors will be renovated and the side facing North Avenue will be spruced up. A small, more modern addition with a lobby will be added to the structure’s east side.   

 According to the floor plans, the first floor will include an 850-square-foot gallery space, nearly 1,200-square-foot performance space at the southwest corner, a kitchen, a café, a 370-square-foot “hangout lounge,” a conference room, and several classroom spaces, among other features. The second floor would feature a Maker Space, a digital photo studio and sound studios. 

“I’d like to start construction within three months and then open up a year from now,” he said, adding that, while he knew that there might be possible construction delays, he liked to be optimistic.

Buress said that he hadn’t narrowed down exactly what kind of classes and activities he’d have at the center, which was a big reason why he was doing pop-up events. 

“The main thing is to bring something different and exciting to the neighborhood,” Buress said.


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...