After a couple of weeks of public outcry over the potential sale of Fresno’s Tower Theatre to a local church, a new prospective buyer has emerged with the goal of preserving the theater for the community.
Last week Jeromie Garza-Hansen and Rodney Hansen, the owners of local catering company The Painted Table, submitted an offer to purchase the historic theater.
That decision follows several protests by residents opposing the pending sale to Adventure Church, which has been renting the theater for services.
The church even lent a welcome to Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer via the theatre’s marquee, as pictured in this story.
“We were listening to the voices of the community,” Garza-Hansen told The Sun. “Rod and I, we’re fortunate enough to be in a place to have the opportunity to step up and put in an offer. We matched the offer of the church, basically.”
One issue involving the sale that caught Garza-Hansen’s eye is the possibility that the Tower Theatre would have to be rezoned if the church purchases the property.
Since rezoning could take a significant amount of time, Garza-Hansen is concerned that Fresno’s performing arts scene – which is already having to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic like all other sectors – will suffer without the Tower Theatre operating like it always has.
“It’s really the heartbeat of the city,” Garza-Hansen said. “It’s the heartbeat of the Valley. There are other theaters around, but this particular theater has just such a deep rooted meaning to our community. Rezoning it so it could become a church would be just not the right move, and it’s just going to be such a huge uphill battle, in turn creating this long wait for the arts to come back.
“And we need to bounce back quickly after this pandemic is over. Right now we’re just trying to make the owners understand that we put in an equal offer. It should be a no-brainer at this point.”
If Garza-Hansen’s bid doesn’t go through and Adventure Church completes the purchase, the church might find itself in a fight with city council over the zoning laws.
Adventure Church claimed in a statement last week that zoning changes would be unnecessary and have not been requested.
“Since the start of negotiations to purchase the Tower Theatre, Adventure Church has never intended to cease the theatre’s primary business operations as an event venue,” the church said.
However, according to reports, Fresno’s City Attorney sent a letter to Adventure church saying that the Tower Theatre is in a commercial main street zoning area, and holding religious services there would require rezoning.
With the rezoning questions and protests casting a shadow over the sale to Adventure Church, Garza-Hansen won the support of the Tower District Marketing Committee. The committee recently held a Zoom meeting with over 250 members of the Tower District community to discuss the potential sale and rezone of the theater.
“The primary concerns that we heard from the community were that preserving the historical, cultural and economic integrity of the Tower Theatre are of upmost priority,” said Annalisa Perea, member of the Tower District Design Review Committee, in a statement.
“I’m proud of the collective advocacy efforts we’ve seen from the community and thrilled that The Painted Table has stepped up to the plate to purchase the theater. This would be a win-win for the Tower Theatre owners, The Painted Table, but most importantly, this would be the biggest win for the entire Tower District Community.
Marketing committee Executive Director Tyler Mackey added, “The Tower District business district depends on the Tower Theatre and its operation as an entertainment venue in the best of times, and this maintaining of the theatre’s traditional role in the community by a trusted and well established community partner like The Painted Table sets everyone up for a stronger recovery and future success.”
For Garza-Hansen, his offer comes in an attempt to keep performing arts vibrant in the Tower District, and he said he will not seek to change the theater’s zoning.
“It’s something that should be for everyone, not a specific demographic,” Garza-Hansen said. “And not to say anything about the church – the current pastor clearly states, ‘We’ll still have shows.’ But there’s always going to be a new pastor. How’s the new pastor going to feel? Is he going to change things?
“There’s just too much unpredictability with the current scenario, and that’s what the community’s really concerned about protesting. The theater belongs to someone, but it really truly belongs to the community. We put this offer in for the community.”