A feud is festering in Denver's Five Points neighborhood
A rift is brewing between Black-owned businesses in Five Points and a private investment firm focused on reviving the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
State of play: Matthew Burkett — who runs Denver-based investment firm FlyFisher Group — filed a lawsuit against the owner of Coffee at the Point for allegedly failing to transfer the assets of the business in exchange for 60% interest in the company, which was outlined in a 2020 agreement.
- Now, the investments and partnerships Burkett established with Coffee at the Point and other area Black-owned businesses — which he also is suing — are crumbling, and what's left of Five Points, described by some locals as "the soul of the city," could be further fractured and in flux.
Context: Burkett, who is Black, has infused capital into Five Points, buying up properties and in 2020 publicly pledging altruistic plans for the historically Black community.
- "The guy was being propped up as the savior of Five Points," Ryan Cobbins, owner of Coffee at the Point, recently told Westword.
- Burkett is also the longtime business partner of Robert Smith — one of the wealthiest Black men in the country.
Driving the news: Burkett sued Cobbins in Denver District Court on March 2, telling Axios Denver in a statement the lawsuit is based on breaches of "standard contract terms" that were "broken with no remedy in sight." He did not share more specifics.
- Cobbins and other FlyFisher Group affiliates, including the owners of Welton Street Cafe and Agave Shore, say Burkett is using "predatory" tactics in the hopes of buying business owners out of their property leases and boosting his own bottom line.
- They met Tuesday night to discuss how they would fight back and are weighing a counter suit against Burkett.
What they're saying: Burkett "is burning our neighborhood down" while "controlling the narrative,” Cobbins tells Axios Denver.
- "He is just completely predatory," Sarah Woodson, the founder of advocacy group The Color of Cannabis, told Westword of Burkett. "He's definitely not for community. He's all for himself."
The other side: "We understand the hardships small businesses have gone through in the past few years," Burkett told Axios, describing the lawsuits as a "last resort."
- "Our hope is that these isolated issues do not detract from the good that has come from our ongoing investment in small and micro-businesses in this community."
The intrigue: Business owners tell Axios Denver that city councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, a new-generation leader who represents Five Points, has only recently come to their aid and publicly acknowledged the issue has hit a "breaking point."
What's next: Members of Colorado's Black Caucus, including Denver Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod and Sen. James Coleman, are meeting with Cobbins and other FlyFisher Group tenants this upcoming weekend in an attempt to resolve the dispute, Axios Denver has learned.
Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca has recently come to the aid of some Five Points businesses.
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