The Fresno City Council will vote Thursday on a deal to buy the Tower Theater for $6.5 million to preserve the historic character and use of the theater.
The complicated purchase proposal includes provisions for Sequoia Brewery and Me-n-Ed’s Pizzeria, but not for Adventure Church, which has been trying to buy the theater for more than a year, according to draft documents obtained by The Bee.
The historic theater was a flashpoint of controversy for more than a year after Adventure Church’s plans to purchase the building were made public.
This sparked weekly protests outside the building. Business owners and community activists have expressed concerns that buying the church would change the character of a neighborhood known for its nightlife, arts community and progressive politics.
Fresno’s LGBTQ community has been particularly active in preserving theater zoning, which has prompted white nationalist groups to push back and defend the church.
The issue turned to the courts when Sequoia Brewery argued – and an appeals court eventually agreed – that the theater owners had acted in bad faith in negotiating with the church since the brewery had the right of first refusal.
Adventure Church is suing the owners of the Tower Theater for breaching a purchase agreement.
Fresno’s proposal to purchase the Tower Theater property
Under the city’s proposal, Fresno would purchase the entire Tower Theater property, including the theater, Sequoia Brewery, Me-n-Ed’s, other dining spaces and 180 parking spaces. The purchase would be funded by a combination of general funds and funds from Measure P, the city’s parks tax which also earmarked money for the arts. The purchase price takes rental income into account.
The proposed resolution ensures that the public would have continued access to the theater and the parking lot.
Sequoia Brewery will purchase its portion of the property for $1.2 million and will receive credits for property improvements and legal fees. The city will fund the net purchase price of $950,000 for Sequoia Brewery.
As part of the sale agreement, if approved, the city will indemnify and defend the owners of the Tower Theater and the Sequoia Brewery if Adventure Church takes legal action against them.
City Council will also vote to establish the preservation of the theater and its historic uses for the public good so that it remains a community arts and cultural resource. The vote will also provide guidelines for preserving interior and exterior historic features and features and protecting community access rights.
Adventure Church Trial
The church previously had a purchase agreement to purchase the theater for $4.8 million. The church has been holding its Sunday services in the theater for over a year now.
A report from city staff indicates that a purchase agreement between the church and the theater owners expired in March 2021 without the church depositing the full purchase price of the property during escrow. The theater’s lawyers also said in court that the theater’s sale agreement had expired.
This is a point that Adventure Church disputes in its lawsuit.
“AC unequivocally disputes the tower parties’ statement that the sale of the property is dead. AC is ready, willing and able to complete the purchase of the property and intends to do so,” according to the lawsuit. .
Church leaders say in the lawsuit that they are open to the idea of allowing J&A Mash and Barrel, the owners of the brewery, to buy the property where the brewery is located if that is what she wants.
The city appears to expect legal action from Adventure Church since the city’s purchase agreement includes compensation for theater and brewery owners.
The theater was built in 1939 as a movie theater operated by the Fox West Coast Theater Corporation, according to the city staff report.
The theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A certified historic rehabilitation included updates to the facility for live shows. The rehabilitation received several awards in 1991. Since then it has been used for both live performances and film screenings.
The theater is built in the “streamline modern” style and is the only dramatic example of this style in Fresno. It comprises six circular murals in recessed niches inside the auditorium painted with fluorescent pigments, which are then illuminated by sconces with ultraviolet light.
The Tower Theater was only the second theater in the country to use ultraviolet light as an ornamental device.
This is breaking news. This story will be updated.
This story was originally published April 18, 2022 5:55 a.m.