Fresno Church Buying Tower Theatre Faces Rigorous Rezoning Process
The sale of Fresno’s historic Tower Theatre is raising concerns among businesses and residents. The buyer, Adventure Church, currently holds Sunday services at the theatre. But according to Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, that’s a violation of current zoning laws.
“We researched our land use and code on what is authorized and we have gotten a determination that actually the current use of religious assembly is not allowed,” says Soria.
The property is currently zoned for commercial main street uses, which does not allow religious assembly on a property that is more than 2000 square feet. The Tower Theatre is 15,000 square feet. As a result, the code enforcement department has drafted a letter to notify the owner about the violation, Soria says.
On Dec. 7, Adventure Church submitted a letter to the city’s planning department, stating it was in escrow to purchase the theatre. The letter details the church’s intent to continue using it as a community space with events like concerts, performing arts, city events and community functions as, “100% the primary function of the theater, with church services being incidental.” Adventure Church states it would plan to use the space for Sunday morning services and occasional midweek church events.
Tyler Mackey, executive director of the Tower District Marketing Committee says the issue is not the church, but is instead about equity in applying the same municipal code to all businesses in the district. Mackey started a Facebook page, Save The Tower Theatre, which has garnered more than 1,000 active followers in a few days. The latest post states, “This unintended and unauthorized use threatens the cultural experience, identity of our district, as well as the viability, economic recovery of the entire business district and surrounding neighborhood.” The post says the sale would undercut conditional use permits already in place with existing bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the area.
“This is actually just a moment for a community to unify around its own municipal code and contract, and finally stand up in a unified voice and say, ‘we’re willing to do our part to make sure that whatever change happens to the theatre is consistent with our wishes and we’re willing to be active partners in trying to resolve it,’” he says.
Councilmember Soria says her office has been overwhelmed with phone calls, emails and comments about the sale.
“People want to make sure that we have an entertainment hub that hosts a wide range of culturally diverse events as it has been for many years,” she says.
Irene Saul, owner of Irene’s Cafe and president of the Tower District Marketing Committee, echoed those sentiments.
“The Tower Theatre for the performing arts is the vocal point for arts and entertainment in the Tower District. And this historic theatre would alter its course should a church replace the performing arts,” she says.
If the sale goes through with the church, Soria says requesting a change of use would need to go through a rigorous approval process with the City Council and Planning Commission and each step would provide opportunities for public input.
Adventure Church did not respond to a request for comment.