Bay Area artist who “revives” spaces accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent
An Oakland visual artist who turns empty buildings in San Francisco into centers of black culture has been accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent.
Binta Ayofemi has strongly denied the allegations, despite at least five commercial property owners in the Bay Area accusing her of delinquent payments over the past three years.
According to interviews with property owners and Ayofemi by the SF Chronicle.
Some projects were underway because rent payments stopped, while others left spaces unused, according to outlet claims.
Oakland visual artist Binta Ayofemi — who turns empty buildings into black culture centers in San Francisco — has been accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent
“She’s got this glistening, beautiful, compelling image of a project in her head, but it’s an empty shell of a dreamscape that she’s not really doing,” Oakland attorney Shona Armstrong said.
Before the pandemic, Armstrong rented an office space at Ayofemi at 1625 Broadway in Oakland, but later evicted her. She claims the artist owes her more than $10,000 in unpaid rent.
Ayofemi told the outlet she doesn’t owe Armstrong any money, but an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered her to pay the back rent and about $5,000 more in attorney’s fees and costs.
‘There is no basis whatsoever for these views. There is no follow-up,” Armstrong said.
The SFMOMA’s prestigious SECA Prize for Emerging Artists went to Ayofemi last year.
She uses rented and renovated vacant commercial spaces to realize her “ambitious projects” through her non-profit organization Ground Urban – whose corporate entity status has since been suspended by the Franchise Tax Board.
Armstrong filed a complaint with state and federal officials detailing Ayofemi’s real estate dealings under the nonprofit.
It is alleged that Ground Urban is being used as a cover for renting and defaulting on spaces to raise money to “revitalize” spaces when the money is actually used for other purposes.
Ayofemi said she had not seen the IRS complaint, but told SF Chronicle that the claims were “insane” and “bogus.”
She also denied claims that donor money was used to pay rent.
The young artist was also evicted from at least three other buildings in Oakland, including 1460 Seventh St., 1701 Telegraph Ave. and 2124 Broadway, according to SF Chronicle.
Court documents obtained by the outlet said she owed at least two of them tens of thousands of dollars in back rent and fees. Ayofemi said she intends to resolve all disputes.
Shona Armstrong rented an office space to Ayofemi at 1625 Broadway in Oakland shortly before the pandemic and later evicted her, claiming she owes more than $10,000
The young artist was also evicted from at least three other buildings in Oakland, including 1460 Seventh St (pictured), 1701 Telegraph Ave and 2124 Broadway.
She’s battling an eviction where she opened ‘Dusk Coffee,’ a cafe and wine bar that’s still operating in the city — she allegedly owes more than $100,000 in back rent
She fights an eviction where she opened ‘Dusk Coffee’, a café and wine bar still in operation in the city.
Brian Breyre, who leased the space to Ayofemi, said she owes “more than $100,000” in back rent since she stopped paying in January.
“She was good at selling herself, and it’s so sad because I thought she would be good for the community, and I really wanted to believe in it,” Breyre said.
Dusk Coffee will continue to operate while the artist challenges her eviction in court.
Despite the allegations and court documents, Ayofemi denied “any record of not paying rent.”
“I’m literally doing transformative things,” Ayofemi said, comparing her work to Nelson Mandela’s.
“My family knows how dangerous it is for me to do this job, and I thought, no, I’m going to do this job. It’s powerful, beautiful work.’
She claims to have applied for lease extensions that were denied and in some cases believed murals she painted and other “renovations” could be used in lieu of rent, the outlet reported.
An email from Armstrong after losing her temper with Ayofemi read, “I get it. “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You may panic.’
“Please stop the bleeding and sign the termination agreement.”
A San Francisco restaurant called Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill in the Bayview neighborhood was intended to be converted into a craft distillery and art space, investors who funded her loan said.
But it is alleged that Ayofemi failed to pay the approximately $1 million loan to revive the building.
The lenders eventually seized the property and sold it in April for a loss of nearly $300,000.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, when one person takes so many leases and for so much money, all at once, and violates so many of them,” said Hussein Saffouri, a lawyer who represented the owners of 1701. Telegraph Avenue and 2124 Broadway.
Ayofemi said she relied on investments, sales of her art and grants to fund her work.
She gave the outlet no other details about its investors or grants, only to say the agreements were “delicate and nuanced.”
Bonnie Bridges, lead architect at Studio BBA, said she had worked with Ayofemi to renovate at least four spaces and had not been paid since September 2021
Ayofemi said she still believes that once her legal woes are overcome, she can breathe new life into black spaces and storefronts in the area
Bonnie Bridges, lead architect at Studio BBA, said she had worked with Ayofemi to renovate at least four spaces.
She claims she has not been paid since at least September 2021, adding that the fees are “north of six figures.”
Ayofemi denied the claims of unpaid bills, saying Bridges “double billed” her and was paid a “ton of money” for the project.
She said someone who hasn’t paid rent is “very problematic” and that it was a “misunderstanding and would be resolved.”
“I have so many people who love my job. Most people like my work.’
Ayofemi said she still believes she can revive black spaces and storefronts in the area once her legal woes are overcome.