Was Church Locked Out of Fresno-Owned Tower Theatre? What City Says
Escrow closed on the sale of the Tower Theatre, Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias announced on Friday. That means the city is now the official owner of the embattled landmark.
Adventure Church, which has rented the theater for services, said they were locked out on Sunday without advance notice. However, Mayor Jerry Dyer and Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias said the church was told before Sunday that it couldn’t use the theater once the city took control.
“We’ve been locked out. We don’t know what’s going on. We showed up to do business as usual, check in hand, ready to pay … this week’s rent. And so we weren’t given any notification that we weren’t going to be let in or that we were going to have access to our stuff. So we don’t know exactly what’s going on,” Pastor Anthony Flores said in a Facebook video posted Sunday morning.
Church services were held virtually, Flores said. He asked for prayers and apologized for the inconvenience.
The city completed its $6.5 million purchase after a series of court decisions cleared the way. Adventure Church sued to prevent the sale after its own sale to buy the property fell through. Judges, both in Fresno County and state appellate level, denied the church’s request to block the sale.
Adventure Church agreed to purchase the theatre from the Abbate family in 2020. That lead to a lawsuit by another tenant of the property — Sequoia Brewing Company, claiming it had the first right of refusal to buy its building.
While that case wound its way through the legal system, Adventure Church’s deal to buy expired, leading to another lawsuit against the theater owners. That case is set for trial in March 2024.
As part of the purchase agreement, the city agreed to cover all legal expenses for Tower Theatre.
Dyer Offers Response
Both Arias and Mayor Jerry Dyer refute Flores’ claim the church had no notice.
“All communication has occurred between the attorneys (for the city and church) in advance, well in advance, in terms of what the conditions were of when the city of Fresno actually takes over ownership and escrow closes,” Dyer told GV Wire.
“It’s unfortunate that there was a feeling that somebody was locked out. Because if that occurred, it was not on our end because the city of Fresno communicated frequently and very clearly as to what was occurring,” Dyer said.
The church had been renting the theater since June 2020, at times the only users during the pandemic. Holding services every Sunday and some Wednesdays, negotiations over a sale between the theater and church started shortly thereafter.
Arias tells GV Wire there is no written lease agreement, just an event-by-event deal. In a May 31 court filing, Flores declared “to date the church has made its weekly lease payment for occupying the Tower Theatre.”
The theater notified the church on July 14 that they would no longer be able to use the venue, at least in the interim, once the city took control. Additionally, the city and theater notified the church to pick up its equipment several times, Arias said.
City Now Inspecting Theater
Flores says the church held services as recently as last Sunday. Its future at the now city-owned facility is unclear.
Officials will spend the next 30 days completing safety inspections and repairs, according to a memo posted on the city’s website.
“During this initial safety inspection period, no performances will be scheduled to occur at the Theatre,” the notice states. Access to the theater could be limited if repairs are required, limiting use to “performances and shows that have already been booked under a binding contract.”
Arias said the city is crafting a policy on how to use the theater. Because it is now publicly owned, no group can be turned away for any content-related reason. The policy could be revealed by September.
Adventure Church has been a controversial presence at the theater. Protesters and counter-demonstrators regularly gathered in front of the theater since early 2021, once it became known the congregation was planning to purchase the facility.