‘It’s going to be devastating’: Business and arts community react to church buying Tower Theatre

News
April 05 2021 05:30 pm

FRESNO, California (KSEE) – Tower District residents and businesses are raising concerns about the future of the historic Tower Theatre. 

Adventure Church is in the process of buying the iconic theater, a venue that’s brought live entertainment and film screenings to the community since 1939.

The private sale is not finished. Both Adventure Church and the theatre’s owner did not respond to requests for comment.

Fab Nightclub’s owner Terry Story is among other local businesses owners opposed to the sale.

“We as a nightclub are a very diverse nightclub. Everyone is welcome there no matter who they are, gender orientation, whatever, it’s just I am opposed to a church going in that location,” said Story, adding his opinion has nothing to do with the religious beliefs of the church.

He worries if a church moves in, other businesses won’t be attracted to the Tower District – which is a hub for bars and restaurants.

“It’s going to be pretty devastating to any business that has a liquor license and that has the restrictions of being so many feet away from a school or church,” said Story.

“It’s not about being anti a church or anti a business or particular person, it just we all need to play by the same rules,” said Roger Rocka, owner of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre.

The dinner theatre has been in intermission since March when the shutdowns began. They recently began offering takeout food but it’s nothing compared to the business they were bringing in prior to the pandemic.

Adventure Church has been using the Tower Theatre for services, live streaming them and recently, bringing back in person services despite health orders. 

“The truth is, all businesses are hurt when they aren’t conforming to that because it extends the pandemic and here we are, we can’t open,” said Rocka.

It’s unclear if the sale is up to code. Councilmember Esmeralda Soria says the city is consulting with its legal team about the steps moving forward. Her understanding is that the area is zoned as a Commercial Main Street, which doesn’t include development like churches or schools. For it to move forward the city would need to amend its general plan and go through a re-zoning, an extensive and public process that would end in a council vote.

“That is our downtown and we want to make sure we don’t lose that element,” said Soria. 

Soria said she has received numerous emails, calls, and texts from concerned residents in her district and vows to fight to keep the Tower Theatre as is.

The Fresno Arts Council is also concerned about the sale, describing the venue’s historical impact and as one of the few medium sized venues in the city.

“This particular venue has been preserved beautifully, to lose that venue as a source of entertainment would really be a shame,” said executive director Lilia Chavez.

Soria said there were complaints about the church holding indoor services, and last week code enforcement delivered them a letter warning and educating them about the risks.

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