Fresno, CA taxpayers shouldn’t be paying to buy the Tower Theater


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Do you remember the movie “Groundhog Day”? Well, the city of Fresno seems to be stuck in the middle of a “taxpayer nightmare” version. In the film, Bill Murray’s character was doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he got it right. Playing the role of Bill Murray, the Fresno City Councilman repeatedly shows his lack of business acumen while making bad decisions.

To understand how cruel these decisions are for taxpayers, we need a brief overview of the purpose of city or local government. Public safety is always high on the list of urban needs that cannot be adequately addressed by the private sector. It is similar with services such as water, sewage and waste. We also need to maintain our roads, sidewalks and streetlights, and it makes sense that a public works department should oversee these chores.

However, the list of jobs our city government needs to do for us is running out fast. It’s the list of desires and pet projects – even wonderful amenities – that is endless and will bleed taxpayers dry if not closely monitored.

Think about our personal budget. Public safety, utilities, and public works are like paying our rent. It’s the money you and I use to take vacations, subscribe to Netflix and the like – our “fun money” – that can really get out of control and blow a budget. Think of a gambler whose addiction causes him or her to fritter away on rent and become homeless…or the person who finds the car of their dreams and takes out a loan far beyond their income. Make no mistake, a councilman is capable of the same silly expenses.

The most recent case study is the Tower Theater estate. The Tower Theater is an iconic building that has been owned and managed by the Abbate family for more than 80 years. As so many companies have experienced in recent years, revenue has not been able to cover expenses. But while things went quiet in the Tower District and the normally colorful setting was muted by COVID, the Tower Theater had a rent-paying resident at Adventure Church. Realizing that the pandemic had left his business unable to pay, Laurence Abbate wanted to sell. It was a logical consequence that the current tenant became the buyer. An agreement was reached and a private company arranged a private sale to a private buyer.

But when Adventure Church could become the owner of the Tower Theater after a long presence as an active church in the Tower District community, protesters surfaced with all sorts of accusations and asked the City Council to “save the Tower Theatre”. (Never mind, it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since September 24, 1992).

Councilors Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria noted that the city’s real estate portfolio had a hole. Previous deals have seen the city own a stadium, a sports complex, and a former museum building, and the proceeds have flowed in (like molasses…in an arctic winter). These councilors have failed to learn from past mistakes and insist on repeating them and even upping the ante.

They didn’t just meddle in a private deal to buy a theater. Because of this, lawsuits are being filed and the Tower Theater and Sequoia Brewery are failing to pay the statutory bills they are guaranteed to incur. Fortunately, these council members are incredibly generous and are happy to claim Fresno taxpayers for any legal costs associated with the city’s assumption of this purchase. And to help Sequoia Brewery purchase the currently leased portion of the Tower Theater property, the city is expanding its services to include rock-bottom interest bankers on long-term, commercial loans.

The deal, approved by Council members Arias and Soria, Council President Nelson Esparza and Council Vice-President Tyler Maxwell, is priced at $6.5 million. With the litigation approaching, the total taxpayer bill for purchasing the Tower Theater property, financing the purchase of the Sequoia Brewery, and guaranteeing all legal bills could well exceed $10 million.

In a city plagued by crime and homelessness, and yet to fully recover from the economic disaster caused by the pandemic, have guts Fresnans, your city council just bought you a theater.

Diane Pearce is a small business owner living in Clovis. She is President of the Fresno County and City Republican Women Federated (FCCRWF). Email: [email protected]

Diane Pearce contributed

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