Everything You Need to Know About the Tower Theatre Purchase

A church in my Tower Theatre? It's much more likely than you think.

What’s Happening

The Tower Theatre, the cornerstone of the historic Tower District, is being sold to a local church. 

Adventure Church, whose main office sits on North Palm, has secured a deal to purchase the Tower Theatre, from which Tower District itself gets its name. According to Councilmember Miguel Arias, that deal is currently in escrow

The Tower Theatre has stood since 1939, and was later restored in 1990. It’s unknown how much money is exchanging hands, but an October listing on quantumlisting.com had the theater valued at $6.5 million. 

Impact 

Long rumored, the news was met with almost unanimous unenthusiasm from the business and art community in Tower. Terry Story, who owns Fab, a popular gay nightclub, called the deal “devastating.” 

Churches have very particular zoning restrictions. Were Tower Theatre to become a place of worship in the eyes of the city, it would endanger the liquor licenses of places like Fab, as well as the other bars near the theater.

At least two applications for Commercial Cannabis licenses have been filed near the theater’s address, which would also be complicated by the presence of a new church.

“It would handicap a whole block of the entertainment district,” Arias told the Bee

If the theater is sold, it won’t immediately impact any licenses that are already held. Still, liquor licenses have to be renewed every five years. If the theater’s zoning status changes, it could affect those renewals. New businesses applying for the first time would certainly be impacted. 

The church claims to have no plans to rezone. In a Dec. 7 letter to the city’s zoning and planning department, Adventure Church wrote: “Events are 100% the primary function of the theater, with church services being incidental.” 

The letter details event stipulations post sale, promising that church services will be limited to Sundays, and that concerts and other arts and entertainment events will still dominate the theater’s schedule.

How these stipulations could be enforced post sale remains a mystery. 

City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria is skeptical that the theater could become a church without extensive rezoning, given that the area is zoned as a “Commercial Main Street” which prohibits the building of schools or churches. To change this, the entire area would have to go through a long and public process, with plenty of room for input from the community.  

Arias said that calling the religious services “incidental” is a way for the church to avoid rezoning. 

The Buyer 

Adventure Church is a part of the evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination Foursquare Church, founded in 1923. Foursquare seeks to declare the “unchanging ministry of Jesus Christ” worldwide, and while they have churches throughout the countries of the world, and a certain flexibility of worship in those churches, they share six foundational principles.

Adventure is also part of the Association of Related Churches, or ARC, which provides “support, guidance and resources to launch and grow life-giving churches,” per its website.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, the church has been holding indoor services on Sundays at the theater since March, much to the chagrin of Tower residents. In a letter to the owner of the theater, Fresno’s code enforcement department wrote: “Nevertheless, it has again been reported, Adventure Church continues to violate the Emergency Orders by hosting large indoor gatherings.”

Concerns have also been raised that Adventure Church, Foursquare, and/or ARC are conservative Christian and homophobic organizations. The Tower Theatre hosts the Reel Pride Film Festival annually, and the local gay pride parade culminates right on that street corner. 

In an unlisted Youtube video titled “Tower Theatre Update,” all Adventure Church Pastor Anthony Flores had to say concerning his church’s LGBT beliefs were “we love you, we love God and we love people.” There are no references to the community or queer members of the congregation on either the Adventure Church or ARC site.

And the lone reference to LGBT issues on the Foursquare Church site is far from conclusive

In the same video, Flores said they had to raise part of the money on their own and the rest of the portion from an angel investor. The investor was not named. He continues to say that the theater would not be rented out to the church seven days a week but Sundays would be blocked out for their services. Tower Theatre Productions would continue handling the rental services for the theater.

What You Can Do

The city council doesn’t have the power to stop the sale from taking place. It’s very likely that the sale will close at the end of January. Arias says that once the sale goes through, the church will have to apply to rezone if they want to continue holding services there.

There will be a comment period as the application winds its way through various committees and hearings. Arias says that the public will have many opportunities to comment and provide feedback at these proceedings, and that rejections can occur at any stage of the process.

Councilwoman Soria’s office told GVwire that they have already received 150 voicemails regarding the sale. There’s no reason she and Arias cannot receive even more messages from the community. 

Soria and Arias’ offices can be reached at (559) 621-8000. Ask for District 1 to reach Soria, District 3 to reach Arias. They can be emailed individually at district1@fresno.gov or esmeralda.soria@fresno.gov for Soria. Arias can be reached at district3@fresno.gov or miguel.arias@fresno.gov.

Code enforcement can be reached at (559) 621-8400. 

There is a Facebook group called Save the Tower Theatre, where all this information and more is available.