A retrial over the Tower Theater sale could accomplish what protesters and the compromises offered by city leaders failed to do – slow down, if not stop, the sale.
Unless a judge steps in, Adventure Church is expected to close the Tower Theater sale this week. The sale includes the theater – symbolic not only for its physical nature but what it represents for the Tower District and above all as a welcoming place for the LGBT community – and the surrounding properties rented by several restaurants.
For the sixth Sunday in a row, protesters gathered in front of the theater. Until recently, the church held in-person Sunday morning services there.
On Friday, the owners of Sequoia Brewing Company, tenant of the Tower Theater complex which is for sale, filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court. Among the claims are breach of contract for failing to notify the brewery of the sale, which would trigger their right to purchase the leased building first.
The brewery owners are asking the court to stop the sale.
The lawsuit applies only to the building rented by Sequoia Brewing, and not to the theater itself. Only the current owner, Tower Theater Properties, Inc. is sued; the church is not.
Right of first refusal
Opponents of the sale argued that a church hosting services at the theater is a violation of the city’s zoning codes. The church’s pastor disagrees with this assessment and has publicly stated that the church has no plans to request a zoning change.
The brewery’s body of the lawsuit does not mention zoning. The legal claim is a violation of the terms of the lease. The contract, signed by former Sequoia owners Craig Scott Kendall and Michele Kendall, provided for the right of first refusal and proper notification when the land was put up for sale.
These rights were transferred when J&A Mash & Barrel, LLC, purchased Sequoia Brewing in 2020.
“(Sequoia Brewing Company) has the exclusive right to purchase the property on which it operates on the same or more favorable terms than the pending sale to Adventure Church,” said attorneys Seth Blyth, Kimberly Mayhew and Craig Meredith in a press release.
According to the lawsuit, the owners of the theater were required to notify Sequoia Brewing within 12 days of the notice of sale. This did not happen, they say.
Additionally, J&A owners Jeremy Smith and Allison Richtel-Smith have refused to waive their right of first refusal at the request of the owners of the Tower Theater.
The 76-page lawsuit contains several letters between the attorneys, although the terms of the sale are still unknown – a source of frustration for Sequoia Brewing.
Lawyers for the brewery allege lawyers for the Tower Theater are threatening their own trial for interference in the sale.
In an email to Sequoia Brewing, realtor Bill Richardson said church leaders “are open to you exercising your first purchasing rights. After the escrow closes, we will work with you on your quest to divest the property. Finally, if your actions today in sending a letter to our lender results in delays or obstruction of our receiver, we will pursue legal action with all parties involved.
On Tuesday, the trial was still being processed by the judicial authorities and no hearing date had been set.
Pastor Anthony Flores of Adventure Church has not commented on the lawsuit. Tower Theater attorney did not respond to inquiries from GV Wire at the time of publication.
GoFundMe Account Setup
In December, Adventure Church informed the city of Fresno that it was in receivership to purchase the famous theater. When the information became public, neighbors online and in person protested the pending sale.
The problem became a famous cause, when artists Sarah Silverman and Audra McDonald, from Fresno, took to social media.
Silverman has sounded the alarm over the perception that the church is not LGBT-friendly – an allegation Pastor Anthony Flores has denied in the past.
A GoFundMe page, established by Tower District Marketing Committee executive director Tyler Mackey and Fresno City Council candidate Annalisa Perea raised over $ 34,000 in one week. The fundraiser is intended to help finance the Sequoia trial.
“The current owners and buyers were not persuaded and instead chose to go ahead with a challenge and threaten to sue rather than the traditional permit application process, regardless of Sequoia’s legal rights. Brewing Company, Community and City of Fresno, ”said the fundraising page.
Opponents of the sale fear that if the theater becomes a church, it could affect neighboring businesses in terms of permits for nightlife and for the sale of alcohol and legalized cannabis.
Sequoia’s lawyers have not confirmed whether the donations will be used to fund a lawsuit.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer tried to negotiate a compromise, offering the church a lease in the city-owned memorial auditorium in downtown Fresno. The church declined the offer, citing its desire to own and not rent property among other objections.