FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Tower District businesses and community groups want the conflict over the sale of the Tower Theatre to finally be resolved.
On Wednesday morning, the Tower District Marketing Committee joined dozens of community members calling on the owner of the Tower Theatre, Laurence Abbate, to finally sell the theatre to a new buyer, one who will keep the theatre as intended. As of right now, the sale of the iconic Fresno landmark to Adventure Church has been stalled by legal challenges.
“It is time to sell to a responsible party that will keep the Tower Theatre functioning as intended and zoned,” said Alicia Rodriguez, a representative of the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee, the group that has been organizing weekly protests over the sale to Adventure Church for the last three and a half months.
Tyler Mackey, executive director of the Tower District Marketing Committee, says the theatre plays a key part in the neighborhood’s tradition as an art and cultural center and must be preserved.
“We are fighting to defend a 30-year-old agreement, legal agreement, between the city and its citizens, in the form of a Tower District-specific plan that protects our zoning,” Mackey said.
That zoning designates the Tower Theatre as an entertainment venue. If this zoning were to change, businesses like Vibez Lounge could face an uncertain future. The owner of the bar that sits less than a block from the Tower Theatre says her liquor license could be in jeopardy.
“I worked hard to get my liquor license, I worked hard to open this business,” said owner Gabriela Alvarez. She says standing in solidarity with her Tower District neighbors and fighting the sale to Adventure Church could mean a difference in being a successful Tower District business or not.
“If I don’t show support, I don’t show action, one day maybe I won’t be able to sell my liquor license, I won’t be able to sell my business.”
Wednesday’s gathering was also held in response to recent heated protests where dozens of alt-right Proud Boys showed up to weekly demonstrations outside the theatre. This prompted an increased police presence at the protests, something Tyler Mackey blames on the theatre’s owner, Laurence Abbate.
“He may not have invited those extremists here, but by his silence and his persistence in the pursuit of his ill-conceived sale, clearly against the interests of the community and even the city, he has enabled them to continue,” Mackey said.
Mackey added that he has not had direct communication with Abbate recently. Laurence Abbate’s legal team could not be reached for comment.
According to the Tower District Marketing Committee, Sequoia Brewing is still the front-runner in terms of interested buyers of the theatre. Sequoia Brewing is behind the legal fight to stop the sale to Adventure Church.
It is still unclear if Adventure Church and the theatre’s owner are trying to work out a deal despite the legal challenges.