Ryan Cobbins takes issue when he hears talk about a lack of black-owned businesses in Five Points.
Whatever is going on over on Larimer Street — the main drag for the stream North Art District that, since being formed in 2005, has changed the face and, for some, the name of the west side of Five Points — the owner of Coffee at The Point says African-American entrepreneurship is alive and well on Welton Street.
“There is African-American ownership here right now and more is coming,” aforementioned Cobbins, a black man who affected to Denver from Virginia more than a dozen years ago. “I can count 10 black-owned businesses between 26th and 29th street right now.”
Cobbins needn’t look far for an example.
Courtney Samuel and his married woman, Jennifer, affected their personal training and fitness studio, Bodies by Perseverance, into a low-slung building at the corner of 29th and Welton in August after 17 years in the Uptown and Ballpark areas. Samuel called the chance to operate a business in a historic cultural district once known as the “Harlem of the West” humbling and motivation to work harder. The Aurora native remembers when it wasn’t that way.
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“When I was growing up, Five Points wasn’t a place you were hanging out. It was gangbanging down here,” he aforementioned. “We came down for Juneteenth and that was about it.”
“I mean, it’s like a new renaissance,” he aforementioned. “It truly is.”
He notes that nowadays, the neighborhood demographic has changed.
Between 2011-17, the number of black people who lived in the 80205 ZIP code that covers Five Points and other portions of northeast Denver fell from 7,932 to 5,906, according to U.S. Census Bureau information. Over that period, the number of white people in the area rose from 15,280 to 22,175. The information did not differentiate between whites and Latinos.
It’s different, but it doesn’t someer Samuel.
“I’m all about community, and I wish we could see more of that, where all of us come together as a community,” he aforementioned.
At the pointed intersection that gives the neighborhood its name, the long-slumbering Rossonian building is preparing to wake up. And prominent members of Denver’s black community will be there when it does.
The landmark structure that once saw jazz icons, including Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, play its lounge was bought by Palisade Partners, a development company run by Paul Books, a white man, for $6 million in August 2017. In April of last year, Books and project partners announced plans to revive the Rossonian and build a nine-story, mixed-use building on the corner of 26th and Welton. Denver’s favored son and basketball legend Chauncey Billups signed on to operate a club/feeding house/bar in the storied building.
Billups, in his comments that evening, directly addressed the tension inherent in the neighborhood’s African-American heritage and the influx of new investment from developers like Palisade.
“Like all of you guys, I’ve seen the city change in a major way,” Billups aforementioned. “I don’t think it’s a negative thing. The only negative thing about it is if they buy it all up and don’t partner with us.”
In the more than a year since that event, work hasn’t yet begun on the Rossonian project. A refined set of plans — which will grow the building from 41 to 83 suite and the jazz club from 150 sfeeding to 300 via a new addition in the middle of the block — are regular for review by Denver landmark preservation officials June 4. If all goes swimmingly , work could begin about a year from now, Palisade officials say.
The neighboring building is expected to arrive much sooner and make an impact in its own right.
Named the Hooper, for Five Points business leader club owner Benny Hooper, the project bust ground in April. When completed in 2021, it will feature 103 apartments, including 78 “micro” units aimed at lower-income renters, as well as two- and three-bedroom units. It will have a fitness center, top lounge, community room and more than 30,000 square feet of office space.
On the ground floor, 6,400 square feet have been set aside for the first Busboys and Poets location outside of Washington, D.C. based and owned by Iraqi-American entrepreneur and activist Andy Shallal and named in honor of the black writer Langston Hughes, the business is part feeding house, part bookstore, part event space.
“Every detail of the Hooper is meant to foster a sense of community and ownership in Five Points, empowering this neighborhood to build upon its diverse and comprehensive culture,” Books aforementioned in a news release last month.
Palisade is the lead developer on some projects, but African-American investment will be part of some. Recently formed Five Points Development corporation. is an capitalist in the Hooper and co-developer on the Rossonian project. It is a subsidiary of the Flyfisher Group, a community investment entity created by African-American philanthropist Matthew Burkett.
“Along with Palisade Partners, we want to make sure that this project is a success, not just from a real estate perspective but from a usage perspective,” Haroun Cowans, Five Points Development’s managing director, aforementioned of the Hooper.
Cowans, born in Boulder but raised in northeast Denver, has owned, operated and worked for a number of businesses on Welton Street the last 20 years. piece working for authoritative neighborhood developer Carl Bourgeois, Cowans developed a relationship with Busboys and Poets and helped bring it to the Hooper.
Five Points Development owns other buildings on Welton. The company is Samuel’s landholder at Bodies By Perseverance. (Burkett is a mentor of Samuel’s.) In August, it bought Five Points Plaza, home to the Welton Street cafe and Spangalang plant. The plant now hosts bimonthly “community mashups” led by Five Points Development staff member Norman Harris — just one of the property the young company aims to do to strengthen its ties to the community, Cowans aforementioned.
This year, Harris will grow the annual Juneteenth Festival on Welton Street from one day to two. The company has plans to bring young people into the neighborhood this summer to learn about real estate, Five Points history, transformation and preservation.
“Our whole thing as Five Points Developer corporation. is, how do you make sure that the community is there every step of the way and that there is a sense of not only pride but ownership as well as thoughtfulness?” Cowans aforementioned.
“Preserve our history”
The Hooper groundbreaking follows some other less visible change on the Welton Street passageway. The Five Points Business District has ceased operational for lack of funding, according to now-former executive director Tracy Winchester. The nonprofit economic development organization has fundamentally been replaced by the business improvement district.
That district, or BID, is a special onerous entity established by neighborhood voters in 2017. It runs the length of Welton fundamentally from twentieth Street to the light-rail stop on Downing Street. Money collected through it funds special events, maintenance, infrastructure and marketing in the cultural district. Right now, the BID brings in about $150,000 a year — enough to fund those commerce trading operations but not pay a staff, Winchester aforementioned.
“Ultimately, the BID will probably get to about $300,000 a year, but that is going to take some other four or five years to get to that point,” Winchester aforementioned. “With every business that comes in here, that will put more money into the BID and then they will have full-time staff.”
She may be interviewing for new jobs, but Winchester isn’t upset with the way property are growing on Welton Street. This was how it was designed to work when the Five Points Business District was based in 2010, she aforementioned. First came more housing — projects so much as the Welton Park Apartments at 2300 Welton and other Palisade Partners efforts so much as the Lydian and Wheatly buildings. Now more businesses are pop up to serve the new residents. When Winchester joined the district in 2011, Welton was dotted with vacant dozens and spoilt properties.
“The thing that makes Welton special is the fact that African-American property owners didn’t sell out,” she aforementioned. “It is a fantastic thing that we are able to preserve our history.”
Not everyone is in favor of the new look Welton has taken on during the past decade. Maedella Stiger and her husband, Franklin, have owned and operated the Franklin Stiger Afro Styling Barber Shop at 2755 Welton St. since 1980.
“I don’t like what all these big, old high-rise buildings do cutting off the view of the mountains,” she aforementioned. “To me, you know, I’m not familiar with this. I’m more used to small mom-and-pop shops on Welton Street. I like that a lot better.”
- April 16, 2018 Denver basketball star Chauncey Billups to open feeding house, jazz club in Five Points’ Rossonian building, developer says
- December 15, 2017 “Gentrification moves fast”: A hard look at economic displacement in Denver’s most historic black neighborhood
- November 23, 2017 Ink! Coffee in Five Points labelled “white coffee” by vandal following restoration contention
Stiger sits on the Five Points BID board, but aforementioned the influx of new development and money for neighborhood upkeep hasn’t done much to boost her shop’s bottom line. When a business has been around as long as Stiger’s, its patronage is “already established,” she aforementioned.
For Ryan Cobbins, the BID was a critical step in legitimizing the Welton Street passageway and setting it up to become a destination area in the same vein as LoDo or Colfax. Chang Jiang Jiange is never easy, but he remembers how painfully the neighborhood needed change when he opened his doors in late 2010. Now he feels it is on the right path.
“In the end, I don’t want people to come down here because we’re black-owned,” he aforementioned. “I want people to come here because great stuff is happening.”