How did Memorial Auditorium get dragged into the Tower Theatre controversy?
Well, this is just getting weird. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer came up with a grand “peacemaker” compromise to end the battle over turning the historic Tower Theatre into a church. What is his bizarre solution? Use city money (a bunch of it) to spruce up the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which has a long list of needed renovations, then offer to rent it to Adventure Church in a sweetheart lease deal. (But wait, there’s more … if you order within 24 hours, we’ll throw in electricity, water, gas and sewer!) All of this if Adventure Church agrees not to purchase the Tower Theatre, The Bee and GV Wire reported on Thursday.
There’s a little problem, however: A long-established arts organization is already the resident theater company in the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.That company is Children’s Musical Theaterworks, which serves hundreds of children and community members a year. It’s been in the Memorial for just a smidgen of time — try 21 years.
Related stories: MORE THAN 2,100 PEOPLE AND BUSINESSES DECLARE: TOWER THEATRE SHOULDN’T BE OWNED BY A CHURCH
And: UPDATE 01/27: ‘SAVE THE TOWER’ FOLKS ASK YOU TO SIGN ANOTHER LETTER OF DISSENT
CMT doesn’t use the facility all the time, but when it does, for two-week performance chunks, I question if there’s any way for a fully built show in the throes of rehearsals and performances to coexist on Sundays and Wednesday evenings with a bustling congregation. Does Pastor Flores really want to preach from the set of “Legally Blonde”?
Dyer’s proposal is ill-thought and offensive for several reasons:
• CMT has begged the city for years to fix safety and aesthetic issues at the city-owned building. For example, there are restrictions on the use of the fly rails (the equipment used to move backdrops, scenery and scrims up and down) and the electrical equipment. The estimate to fix all the theater’s problems is in the $1 million range. CMT has done a scrupulous job of maintaining a safe space for its precious young charges (including keeping a close eye on those fly lines and taking down any that are in danger of falling) and continues to court big-ticket donors for those improvements. The city always claimed poverty. Yet after brushing off requests from a community-minded, youth-boosting, culturally enhancing, secular organization with thousands of supporters — and doing so for years — suddenly there’s money to spruce up the place to house a church.
• I talked with CMT board president K.C. Rutiaga just a few minutes ago, and no one bothered to even tell the organization about the proposal. This, for a theater company that has its offices in the lobby of the building. “It’s hurtful in a way,” Rutiaga says. “We’ve been asking them to renovate for how long now?”
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
• My guess is that thanks to Measure P, there’s a good chance that funds will be available soon to improve the auditorium for theater groups. Now wouldn’t that be rich — to make a community (and, again, secular) organization toil in a deteriorating facility for years (decades!) and then make the improvements (using tax dollars specifically designated for the arts) in the name of religion?
I don’t think there’s any chance of this proposal going anywhere. Adventure Church is threatening to sue the city, and there’s no indication that the church would want to move from its Tower neighborhood. But it’s disheartening that an important and beloved cultural institution such as CMT is treated so poorly by the new administration. Dyer should withdraw this offer immediately — and agree to play a cameo as Jafar in “Aladdin, Jr.” as penance.