Adventure Church is threatening legal action against the City of Fresno, alleging the city has interfered with the sale of the historic Tower Theatre, in turn discriminating the church.
The sale of the theater to Adventure Church is pending in escrow, and Pastor Anthony Flores told The Sun that the process is close to complete.
Ever since the news broke that the Tower Theatre was being bought by Adventure Church – which has been renting the venue for services on Sunday mornings – many Tower District neighbors voiced their displeasure with the sale.
The movement to block out Adventure Church from buying the theater has progressed beyond community protests and into the city government.
“This is the culmination of maneuvers the city has made to interfere with the private sale of the property to Adventure Church, who has done their due diligence to purchase the building lawfully and with intentions to preserve the building’s intended use and culture,” the church said in a press release. “The city’s deliberate interference with the existing purchase contracts are a violation of the law (Tortious Interference) and is discriminatory.”
Current Tower Theatre owner Laurence Abbate said City Council members Esmeralda Soria and Miguel Arias met with him earlier in January and asked him if he would rather sell to another party.
Adventure Church views that meeting as the city attempting to “coach Abbate on ways to get out of his purchase contract,” and said that the city’s behavior is corrupt.
“It feels a bit ironic that we are being targeted and discriminated against for our constitutionally protected rights not only by people who themselves fight for equality but also by our local government,” Flores said in a statement.
Abbate also said city officials remarked that they would explore the possibility to use eminent domain to purchase the theater for the city.
Fresno City Council met in closed session Thursday to discuss the sale of Tower Theatre with Abbate, as well as potential litigation it might take against the owner.
Flores told The Sun that he is concerned the city will pull Adventure Church into any litigation it seeks against Abbate.
Dyer offers alternate proposal
During Thursday’s council meeting, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said he has received hundreds of letters and emails from people who do not want the sale to go through to Adventure Church.
“Really what the message is is that the folks who frequent the Tower, patronize the Tower or live in the Tower, they want to preserve the characteristics and the fabric of the Tower District, very understandable,” Dyer said.
After reading through all of the comments from the community and talking with Abbate and Flores several times, Dyer sent a letter to Flores offering a lease agreement with Adventure Church to use the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown.
It would be a 10-year agreement with an option for an additional 10 years, giving Adventure Church full use of the facility all day on Sundays as well as Wednesday evenings.
Monthly rent would come in at $2,000 for the first five years, $2,250 for years six through 10, $2,500 for years 11-15 and $2,750 for years 16-20.
“I know this has been a difficult time for you and your congregation and that you never anticipated that the purchase of the Tower Theatre would create this kind of division within our community,” Dyer wrote to Flores. “Like me, I know you are a ‘Peacemaker,’ and it is your desire to unite our city. Together, I am confident we will be able to achieve that goal. Thank you for everything you do for our community.”
The agreement would be contingent on Adventure Church backing out of the Tower Theatre sale and will require approval by the City Council.
“It is my hope that they do take advantage of that offer, and I believe it is a very very fair offer for them,” Dyer said. “And I’m hoping that as a result of that it will create some unity back into our community and maybe allow us to get this thing resolved and maintain the fabric and the characteristic of the Tower District.”
However, while Flores is appreciative of the offer from Dyer and the city, he is not interested to take the deal.
Flores said he does not trust the City Council to sign off on the deal after he would back out of the Tower Theatre sale, and he wants Adventure Church to own the property and not have to lease.
“[Dyer] does not have City Council approval yet,” Flores told The Sun. “That rings off a ton of alarms for me, because this is the same City Council that had a backdoor deal with the owner of the Fresno Tower Theatre and in that is trying to shipwreck my purchase.”
Flores continued, “He wants me to trust a City Council that has not been put in check, that no one has been able to put in check, and all of a sudden there’s two of them that have an angst against me for whatever reason. I’ve done nothing to them, but they are bent on me not purchasing that theater.
“That is tortious interference, and they need to be held responsible. Because long before they were city councilpeople, I was pastoring this church in this district. And long after they’re gone I’ll be pastoring this church in this district. I don’t know how he expects me to trust them. I am thankful, grateful, that is a generous offer, praise the Lord. However, I can’t trust him to get the city council to sign off on anything because all they’ve shown is corruption.”
Flores also pointed to the city’s attempts to shut the church down during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading him to not want the city as his landlord.
The Fresno city attorney sent a letter to Abbate on Jan. 5 notifying him that Adventure Church is violating the shelter-in-place order, as well as zoning violations.
“I’ve got to do what’s right for Adventure Church,” Flores said. “I said I’d pray about it. I’m continuing to pray about it. But as of right now I’m a little suspect, and I don’t think anybody would blame me.”
Flores, Abbate fined
While Dyer was attempting to play “peacemaker,” the city slapped Flores and Abbate with fines Thursday because Adventure Church held an indoor service at Tower Theatre last Sunday.
Code enforcement levied a $250 fine to Flores, which he said he has donated to the Fresno Rescue Mission.
If code enforcement comes after him again, Flores said he will donate the money to the Poverello House and other local nonprofits for subsequent fines.
Abbate faces a $500 fine from the city.