The Battle for Tower Theatre

Adventure Church is trying to buy Fresno’s Tower Theatre

In early January, the City of Fresno made it public that Tower Theatre was being put up for sale, according to The Fresno Bee. Fresno-based Adventure Church has been hosting Sunday services at the theater and now seeks to purchase it despite backlash from community members. 

Despite reports of issues with zoning law from councilmembers Esmeralda Soria and Miguel Arias, Adventure Church announced in a press release on January 12 that it “intends to continue to serve the community through the purchase of Tower Theatre. Our plan is to not only keep Tower Theatre as an event venue but make it more accessible to the community by making it financially obtainable for use by non-profit organizations.” However, many members of the community are worried about this impending sale, and others have made their resistance known through protests and petitions. 

Tower Theatre, the historical landmark and namesake of the Tower District, hosts a wide variety of cultural events, sharing Olive Avenue with bars, pubs and tattoo parlors. Most opponents point to Adventure Church’s stance against LGTBQIA+ marriages and worry that events like the annual Reel Pride LGBTQ Film Festival and Gay Pride Parade will be affected or threatened by the church’s ownership, as noted by blogger Michael Martinez of Gay Central Valley. Many community members also feel that if the theater is bought by Adventure Church, the heart of the Tower District will be drastically  altered. 

FPU’s very own Brooke Aiello, adjunct theatre professor, has been heavily involved  in the fight to save Tower Theatre. Aiello noted that this was a multifaceted  issue, with many people upset that the church continued to meet early last year, when the pandemic first began, as businesses next door were closed. Additionally, a rezoning would remove the warm, welcoming and Bohemian atmosphere loved by those who live in the Tower District neighborhood, such as Aiello.

“The entire neighborhood has to change [if Adventure Church buys Tower Theater.]. What happens to Roger Rocka’s that’s across the street? What happens to the clubs down the street? We believe that as a community that nightlife, arts and entertainment are important and worthy of protection,” said Aiello.

Unless Tower Theatre becomes owned by a neutral, secular entity, such as a non-profit or even the city of Fresno itself, its zoning will be forced to change. While having a Christian church would change the neighbourhood tremendously, Aiello and many others are also concerned about what that means for those who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Protesters have reported run-ins with members of The Proud Boys, a white nationalist organization; such encounters, many individuals say, is already changing the neighborhood.

“Tower District is one of the few LGBTQIA+ friendly neighborhoods where you can hold your significant other’s hand and feel safe. We are proud of that. If you look at Adventure Church, their outlook about this community is backwards. Adventure Church has yet to say we condemn the counter protest people who are riling people up,” said Aiello.

Those fighting against the selling of Tower Theatre are concerned with what zoning issues could do to their beloved neighborhood. With a new organization, zoning changes would have to occur, potentially even changing those who are involved in Tower Theatre. Although the theatre is currently shut down due to the pandemic, it’s being sold to another organization has already halted events such as the Rogue Festival.

Judge Rosemary McGuire implemented a temporary restraining order over the sale of the Tower Theater. Judge McGuire stated that the ruling was made with the aim of gathering more information, witness testimonies and contract issues surrounding the sale. Some contract issues were addressed after the Sequoia Brewing Company made accusations against the Tower Theater for violating their right for first refusal, by not informing them about the sale to Adventure Church. The Sequoia Brewing Company resides in that lease of the Tower Theater which the owners claim “requires the owners be notified at least 12 days before the theater and its surrounding structures are up for sale” and that they “should be offered the right of first refusal of the sale and to the purchase their building.” 

However, as of March 18, a Fresno County judge ruled against the temporary restraining order, putting the sale of Tower Theatre back in motion. The sale is projected to close at the end of the month, and many protesters are refocusing their efforts to zoning issues to protect local businesses surrounding Tower Theatre. 

A community letter has been developed to support and stand against the rezoning of the Tower Theater with its sale to Adventure Church. Here is the link to the letter, which includes over 21,000 signatures from businesses, community and government leaders and other community members: https://munroreview.com/2021/01/19/more-than-2100-people-and-businesses-declare-tower-theatre-shouldnt-be-owned-by-a-church. Additionally, if you are interested in being added to a supplemental digital signature collection, here is the link. Be warned: it will not be included in letters sent to government officials: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScq2oROmnpaAn0aqSpL1a0KOKh2qoTefciG-c39tIkNIA8Z5g/viewform

For those who wish to take physical action against the sale of Tower Theatre, you can go every Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on the corner of Olive and Wishan, right across the street from the Tower District, and protest in person. A group puts up signs, posters and flags, and plays live music while protesting. Their mission is to gather the support needed to keep their neighborhood whole.

For those of you who would like to support the Adventure Church and their purchase of the Theater, you can sign their petition and letter to both council members and the mayor of the city of Fresno: https://www.change.org/p/city-of-fresno-support-adventure-church-in-the-purchase-of-the-tower-theatre?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=f5685610-64c6-11eb-96a3-079a23c20d4c. Its mission is to support the sale of Tower Theatre to Adventure Church

If you are interested in actively participating in this one-of-a-kind moment, you can sign either petition mentioned above. Remember: no matter your stance, make sure to use your voice.

Authors: Sheyla Castillo, Shayanne Mortimer, & Kassandra Klein | A&E Co-Editors & Copy Editor

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