Tower Theater owner says he’s moving forward with church sale

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Even with a split decision on the final round of the Tower Theater legal saga, the owner says he’s still considering selling the iconic venue.

And, he plans to sell to Adventure Church.

“I don’t see why we can’t all get along the way we have been. It’s great – the church here, the shows here… it was a home run, ”theater owner Laurence Abbate said.

Abbate, who faces strong objections from some in the community, said recent lawsuits mean the current sale is “frozen,” but once they thaw, he sells.

“(We want to) finalize this transaction if we can. Hope this is a clear path now to get there and to continue the shows, ”Abbate said.

Abbate spoke to GV Wire for a 30-minute live interview Friday on Facebook.

Sell ​​to Adventure Church

When news of the Adventure Church sale became public in December on Gay Central Valley blog, the weekly Sunday protests began shortly thereafter.

The property includes the main theater, as well as other plots on the block at the northwest corner of Olive and Wishon avenues. Tenants include Sequoia Brewing Company restaurant and caterers The Painted Table.

Some, like Tyler Mackey, head of the Tower District Marketing Committee, are concerned about surrounding businesses. A neighborhood church could jeopardize alcohol licenses, future cannabis licenses and possibly reduce property values, he said.

Others were skeptical of the church’s stance on LGBT issues.

During the pandemic, the church held Sunday and Wednesday services at the theater – despite local and state ordinances prohibiting such actions (subsequent court rulings allowed religious institutions to hold limited in-person meetings). But the church ended its services to the theater when the protests against the sale began.

Abbate called the Tower District a “ghost town” during the pandemic.

“(Adventure Church) were the only ones here during COVID,” Abbate said. “When he went to the market, they walked up and said, ‘Hey, well, what do you know? What if we do a race? “

Abbate said the church agreed to host entertainment shows after the sale was completed.

“I thought it was, honestly, a good fit,” Abbate said.

“They were the only ones here and ready to go. And like I said, the offer was there, I believe, for quite a while and no one was affected. Only people really started to show up when we found out Adventure was there. And I was wondering myself, who would want to buy a theater that cannot be managed? Abbate said.

The owners of Sequoia Brewing Company filed a lawsuit in February, claiming it had the first right to purchase its leased property. Abbate said Sequoia was offered the property. This is one of the main points of dispute that a court will decide.

The engagement expired on March 31, but Abbate says that won’t stop a potential sale.

Abbate would not disclose financial data for the deal. Court documents have revealed that Tower Theater was willing to sell part of its property – leased by Sequoia Brewing Company – for $ 1.2 million.

A lack of communication

Abbate tried not to pay attention to the weekly protests, organized by the Save the Tower Theater demonstration committee, he said.

“They’re just there to intimidate, push and make noise. I just don’t know. So I don’t really watch it anymore, ”Abbate said. “I stay away because it’s so hostile and there’s no open communication.”

Abbate said none of the protesters contacted him to speak; the demonstration group said Abbate had not contacted them.

“I’m here all the time and I’d like to talk to anyone on that side, whatever people there are, to try and see what we’re saying here. I don’t see a problem with a church, ”Abbate said.

Tower Theater supporters and the Proud Boys stand on either side of the sidewalk during the April 11 protest (Facebook / Oreo Express)

Abbate denounces the proud boys

Counter-protesters, some from the far-right Proud Boys, also attended the Sunday morning protests. This led to many verbal confrontations and a few physical skirmishes.

Fresno Police, starting April 18, placed barricades across the street to separate the sides.

Opponents of the sale criticized Abbate for not speaking out against the Proud Boys. They have been labeled a hate group and the Canadian government calls them terrorists.

“What they represent is something that I do not stand for at all. Absolutely. I can’t stand anything like that. And I really don’t care about the manifestation there without communication. How come they aren’t here to talk to me? Abbate said.

Pushing back calls to sell to others

Opponents of the sale spoke at a press conference last week. Speakers asked Abbate to sell to a different group who they felt would be a better steward of the theater.

“It’s pretty absurd. I thought here in the United States we owned a property and then we could sell it. I’m sure they have houses and whatever. I can’t imagine going to them and saying, hey, you know, I kinda like your area here and maybe there’s some kind of park or symbol or something that I’m attached to. So you can’t sell. … I don’t even know how to answer. It’s so illogical, ”Abbate said.

Abbate is not worried about the boycott the group of protesters called for to reopen the theater.

“We’ll have to cross this bridge when that happens, right?” Do they want to go out and protest? I guess they can. I hope they will come to their senses at some point and see that this is no use, ”Abbate said.

A postcard from the Tower Theater. (GV Wire / Jahz Tello)

Surviving COVID

Abbate is eager to reopen the theater which has been in the hands of his family for over 80 years. He says his phone “rings off the hook” to book shows.

He plans to resume shows in August in accordance with COVID safety guidelines – such as mandatory masks and remote corporate offices.

The theater has been dark since last March, with the exception of the Adventure Church services.

But the financial hardship caused by COVID was too great, Abbate said.

“It’s probably our time to go. We have had and treated it for a long time. I love the theater. It’s been fantastic, but after two years there are needs of other families and things like that that really need to have something that can make an income, ”Abbate said.

The theater did not apply for city grants for small businesses, saying it was not worth filing the documents, Abbate said. But he received around $ 103,000 from the federal payment protection program, according to Pro Publica.

“We cannot exist without income here and without all the bills because we still have to pay all the infrastructure, the property tax,” Abbate said.

By having a church that owns the Tower Theater, Abbate said, it wouldn’t depend solely on shows to survive.

“What great stewards. Again, they have more financially than even us, ”Abbate said.

Interior photo of the Tower Theater

The Tower Theater has a capacity of 761 people. (towertheatrefresno.com)

Latest legal decision

The state’s Fifth District Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that a lower court judge was correct in allowing the sale to proceed, but erred in deleting a document.

The result, according to the group’s lawyer suing the Tower Theater and other legal experts GV Wire spoke to, means the sale is still on hold.

“It was good news. So we’re just waiting to hear the steps to move forward beyond that, ”Abbate said.

There are twin leaflets in the courts during the sale of the tower. One is on the merits of the deal itself – whether the sale harms the owners of Sequoia Brewing Company. This case will begin in court in July with a status conference.

Friday’s appeal decision was “important because it is unlikely that a title company will make a real estate sale with a lis pendens (notice of suspension of action) in place. As a registered document, the lis pendens also warns all other potential buyers that if they try to buy the property, they will buy a lawsuit, ”said Kimberly Mayhew, lawyer for Sequoia Brewing.

Decision of the Court of Appeal

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