The Tower Theatre scored two wins in court this week that could pave the way for a sale to Adventure Church and keep the city out.
In a tentative ruling, Judge D. Tyler Tharpe denied the city of Fresno’s request for entry to conduct an appraisal inside the theatre. Earlier this week, in a separate case Judge Rosemary McGuire ruled favorably for Tower Theatre, eliminating a legal document that essentially halted a sale.
The theater struck a preliminary sale deal with Adventure Church in September 2020. When the deal became closer to finalization by December and became public shortly thereafter, community groups objected. A tenant on the Tower Theatre property, Sequoia Brewing Company, sued on grounds that the sale violated their lease.
The exact status of the theater’s sale to the church is unknown. In a Facebook post, Pastor Anthony Flores said Adventure Church still intends to purchase the building.
The church has held services there for a better part of the last year. They paused for a few months in January after protests by sale opponents began.
The protests, held on Sundays during the same time as church services are scheduled, have been held every week. Some participants object to the church on grounds that it violates zoning laws. Others protest their interpretation of the church’s views on LGBT issues.
City Denied Entry
In a ruling issued prior to Thursday’s scheduled hearing, Tharpe said the city did not properly notice the correct owner’s of the theater. The city served Tower Theatre Properties, Inc.
Court documents filed by the theater said the correct legal owner is Tower Theatre Productions.
“Before the entry order can be granted, the Petition will have to be further amended and at least the record property owner should be named and served,” Tharpe wrote in his tentative ruling.
Tharpe also had doubts over the reasoning the city stated for wanting to enter the property.
“The City has not presented sufficient evidence for the court to make these determinations,” Tharpe wrote.
There was no in-person hearing on Thursday. The ruling left open an option for the city to re-file. Court records show the city did file an amended complaint, listing “Tower Theater Production for the Performing Arts” as a respondent.
In court documents leading up to the request for entry, the city said it needs to appraise the theater to ensure it is being maintained as a historic property. That includes possibly taking the theater and its parking lot through eminent domain.
“The City’s court petition for the appraisal of Tower Theatre remains pending in court. The Court has issued a ruling setting forth the notice that the court has requested that the City give to the owner and tenants as well as a requirement that the City’s appraiser file a declaration with the Court. The City’s attorneys are providing that information as requested by the Court for a future court hearing date,” said Anthony Taylor, the attorney representing the city with the firm Aleshire & Wynder, LLP.
Messages for the city or the Tower Theatre were not returned.
Tower Defeats Sequoia in Another Case
On Wednesday, McGuire finalized her decision to expunge a lis pendens document. A lis pendens is a notification of pending legal action on a property that effectively placed a hold on any future sale. The judge also granted Tower Theatre’s attorney’s $4,589.95 in fees and costs.
A tenant of the Tower property, Sequoia Brewing Company did not properly serve notice for its request for the lis pendens, McGuire ruled — similar to the city’s failed case. She also cast doubt on Sequoia’s legal strategy that claims a right of first refusal to purchase its share of the Tower property it leases.
Sequoia’s lawsuit against Tower Theatre will continue on whether it should have the right to buy or be compensated if a sale is completed to another buyer. Attorneys for the various parties have submitted potential trial dates to the court.
The theater offered to sell the building Sequoia leases for $1.2 million. Sequoia has challenged the method used to determine that price by not disclosing the terms of the entire property’s sale to Adventure Church. McGuire was not moved by that argument.
“All we do is win,” Pastor Anthony Flores said in a video posted on Facebook. “Sequoia Brewing, you need to fall in line. We are trying to buy this property.”