Diana Pearce calls the City of Fresno’s purchase of the Tower Theater a “senseless expense” in her May 7 op-ed “Fresno Council’s Deal to Buy Tower Theatre, Latest Ownership Mistake on Taxpayers “. But Pearce couldn’t have been more wrong. The purchase of the Tower Theater is a wise and indeed quite modest investment for the welfare of all of Fresno.
I’m not saying this just for sentimental reasons – saving the Tower Theater makes cold, hard economic sense. This is an investment that will pay off in improving economic development and may even benefit the city.
First, the $6.5 million the city is paying for the Tower Theater is microscopic compared to the city’s total budget. In Fresno’s budget for fiscal year 2021-22, the city’s total spending is $1.45 billion. The purchase of the Tower Theater would represent only 0.4% of the city’s annual expenditure.
The Tower Theater price tag is dwarfed by what the city spends each year on policing ($207 million), city planning ($95 million), and even parks and recreation ($58 million). According to the May 12 city council meeting agenda, the city will pay $6.5 million for 14 months of animal control services. I don’t know about you, but I think saving one of the city’s most historic landmarks is worth the equivalent of 14 months of capturing dogs.
But the city’s purchase of the Tower Theater isn’t just about saving a building — it’s about preserving the economy of one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The Tower Theater is the hub of the Tower District’s business community of music venues, theatres, restaurants, nightclubs and bars.
Many people aren’t used to thinking of arts and entertainment as economic drivers, but when you look at the actual dollars and cents, live entertainment creates a huge boost in local economies. According to the National Independent Venue Association, every dollar consumers spend on live entertainment generates $12 in economic activity within the local community. Ticket prices at the Tower Theater range from $40 to $70, so each audience member at a Tower Theater creates an economic value of $480 to $840 for the city. Even a half-full house at the 700-seat Tower Theater can produce $175,000 in economic stimulus overnight.
Live entertainment is not frivolity. It is an essential component of our local economy. The Tower Theater and the concert halls and nightclubs that the theater nurtures are not just enjoyable amenities, but serious businesses that generate millions of dollars in economic activity each year, not to mention millions of dollars in municipal tax revenue. .
Maintaining the Tower Theater as a working theater is essential to keeping the Tower District’s economy booming. The Tower Theater attracts a wide variety of audiences from across the Central Valley, who in turn frequent local clubs, music venues, restaurants and bars. A church cannot recreate the economic function of a working theater. Churches do not promote nightlife or foot traffic.
The Tower Theater can also create a direct revenue stream for the city. The Tower Theater is not a useless mess, but a working business. Under competent management, the Tower Theater can expand its offerings, increase bookings, and make a profit that will cover the city’s initial investment and generate additional revenue.
By purchasing the Tower Theatre, the city acquired a for-profit business and preserved a vital sector of the local economy, all for a disbursement of just 0.4% of the city’s annual expenditure. This is one of the smartest investments the City of Fresno has ever made.
Jaguar Bennett is a resident of the Tower District, Chairman of the Rogue Festival Board and a member of the Save the Tower Theater Demonstration Committee.