Fresno

Fresno faces second act of Tower Theatre drama: subpoenaing its owner

More Tower Theatre-centric drama is headed to Fresno City Hall. 

Come Thursday, the Fresno City Council will once again be faced with a decision to subpoena Tower Theatre owner Laurence Abbate to appear in front of the dais downtown. 

This comes three weeks after the council narrowly approved a $6.5 million purchase agreement to acquire the historic theater, in turn preventing Adventure Church – which had agreed to a deal with Abbate in late 2020 – from completing its own acquisition. 

As part of the deal, the city agreed to provide a 30-year loan at 3.5 percent interest to Sequoia Brewing to finance its purchase of the building it is currently renting that is part of the larger theater property. 

The council also agreed to indemnify and defend Tower Theatre Entities and Sequoia Brewing from any potential litigation. 

After the council’s vote, Adventure Church announced that its own lawsuit against the city is forthcoming. 

While the lawsuit has yet to be filed, Adventure Church pastor Anthony Flores confirmed to The Sun on Wednesday that the final details are being worked out before a suit hits the court docket.

Compelling “the whole truth”

Councilman Mike Karbassi placed Thursday’s subpoena request on the agenda, along with an item to approve an amendment to the indemnification and legal defense agreement between the city, Tower Theatre Entities and Sequoia Brewing. 

While it is unclear what – specifically – Karbassi is seeking to amend, as the item attached to the agenda online does not include any documents showing the proposed changes. 

However, in order to request a subpoena for Abbate, an item regarding the Tower Theatre owner had to be placed on the agenda, per council rules. 

Thursday’s upcoming subpoena request is Karbassi’s second such request in just a matter of weeks. 

During the April 21 meeting in which the council approved the city’s purchase of the theater, Karbassi expressed his frustration with the process and noted his desire to get answers from Abbate. 

“I have a credibility gap with Mr. Abbate,” Karbassi said at the time. “I’d like to know where he actually stands on this. In making a big decision, the fact that I as a councilmember – so we’re not allowed to have people come into closed session. There’s confidentiality rules. We have rules how as a city we can meet with people. And it’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to question him, because I have specific questions.” 

Karbassi made a procedural motion to subpoena Abbate to City Hall that day. 

But the motion failed 3-3-1. Karbassi was joined by Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez in support, while Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria abstained. 

If Karbassi’s attempt Thursday succeeds, Abbate would be forced to make a public appearance at City Hall and face questions from the council. 

Looking ahead of Thursday’s upcoming drama, Flores praised Karbassi for making this attempt. 

“I think Councilman Karbassi is doing the right thing,” Flores told The Sun. “He had questions that nobody could answer, and if you’re going to at least attempt to indemnify somebody, he needs to answer. And those questions that Councilman Karbassi asked should be answered. He should have to go before the council and answer those questions. I absolutely think Fresnans want to know some answers. I think he’s doing right by the people in his district, which he should be.” 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.