Tower Theatre dispute now includes legal action from City of Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For the first time, the city of Fresno is dipping a toe in the legal dispute over the fate of the Tower Theatre.

City leaders have stayed out of the legal battle between the owners of the Tower Theatre, the church trying to buy it, and the tenant who says they have a contractual right to buy at least their portion first.

But behind the scenes, they've taken some steps.

RELATED: City of Fresno may soon enter the fight over sale of Tower Theatre

The federal government added Fresno's Tower Theatre to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, calling it the biggest and most sophisticated, privately-funded building designed in its style at the time it was built in the late 1930s.

The historic designation makes it more significant in the eyes of the city.

"This building is an important building to not only the Tower District neighborhood, but our entire city," said Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria. "There's so much history there and we want to make sure that it's preserved."

The theater is in Councilmember Soria's district and she says they need to keep it as a historic asset in the community.

So as the current owners talked about selling it to Adventure Church, the city council and Mayor Jerry Dyer tried to figure out how much it was worth.

City attorneys say the owners wouldn't let their appraiser inside. So they're filing a petition asking a judge to allow it.

"Which is surprising that the city's going in and looking to even want an appraisal," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "Why are they doing that? Are they looking at taking this property through eminent domain, through government power?"

Soria says eminent domain is not the only option, but they won't know exactly what they can do to maintain the theater's historical integrity until they know the value.

Attorneys for the theater's ownership did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The sale to Adventure Church is on hold until a legal dispute is settled between the theater's owners and the tenants at Sequoia Brewing.

RELATED: Tower Theatre sale halted while judge considers appeal filed by Sequoia Brewing Company

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says the city is approaching a deadline to figure out what it can legally do, if anything.

"They're doing it now and I think they have to act quickly because if the church purchases the property, the city doesn't have a right to go in and do an appraisal and take it by eminent domain. 2:02

Sequoia and the owners have a court date in June that could put an end to the dispute.

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