The Wichita City Council seems poised to enter an unnecessarily complicated transaction.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider a loan to the operator of the Starlite Drive-In Theater in Wichita. According to city documents, the proposal is for a five-year loan of $200,000 with an annual interest rate of one percent. The city is requiring both a personal guarantee and a letter of credit, presumably from a reputable bank. 1
We have to wonder why the city asks for both a letter of credit and a personal guarantee. When issuing a letter of credit, a bank will be careful. It is, in effect, making a promise to issue credit to a borrower (the operator of the Starlite) if the borrower does not perform according to the agreement with the city. That alone ought to be enough security.
Moreover, if a bank has enough confidence in a customer to issue a letter of credit for $200,000, it would probably make a loan for the same amount. But that would cost more than one percent in interest.
This is really what the city is doing: Reducing the cost of a loan that a borrower ought to be able to obtain on his own.
Given this, why doesn’t the city simply subsidize the interest cost of the loan? I don’t know what rate a bank would charge this borrower, but it might be 12 percent or so. Then the borrower would have interest costs of $24,000 per year as compared to $2,000 per year for the City of Wichita loan. If the city would simply pay the borrower the difference between the two, things would be much simpler for the city. It wouldn’t have to worry about the loan being repaid.
Well, the city shouldn’t have to worry about repayment, because of the letter of credit. But if the borrower qualifies for that, he can also qualify for a loan.
There are other reasons why the city shouldn’t get involved in the Starlite theater, but if it must, let’s try to keep things simple. Based on what we know so far, I don’t think we’re being told the entire story.
Further evidence of lack of transparency is that this matter has been elevated to an emergency. According to city documents, the mayor will make this declaration regarding the enabling ordinance: “I, Jeff Longwell, Mayor of the City of Wichita, Kansas, hereby request that the City Council declare that a public emergency exists requiring the final adoption and passage on the day of its introduction, to wit, December 18, 2018 …” 2
- “The $200,000 loan from the City will be structured to be repaid over five years as an interest only loan with an interest rate of 1% per annum, with quarterly interest payments for the first four years. The borrower will pay one-twelfth of the principal amount plus interest in each month of year five. The borrower is Blake Smith through Starlite, LLC, a Kansas limited liability company. Smith will provide the City with a personal guarantee as well as a letter of credit securing the entire loan. The letter of credit will be structured as a declining letter of credit. If any principal amount of the loan is prepaid, the letter of credit can be reduced by an equal amount. For instance, if $25,000 is paid at the end of year one, the letter of credit may be reduced to $175,000, the remaining balance of the loan.” City of Wichita, Agenda Packet for December 18, 2018. Item V-5. ↩
- REQUEST FOR DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY
REQUEST OF THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, FOR THE DECLARATION BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF SAID CITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF A PUBLIC EMERGENCY REQUIRING THE ADOPTION OF AN ORDINANCE BELOW DESIGNATED.
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS:
I, Jeff Longwell, Mayor of the City of Wichita, Kansas, hereby request that the City Council declare that a public emergency exists requiring the final adoption and passage on the day of its introduction, to wit, December 18, 2018 of an ordinance entitled:
ORDINANCE NO. _____
AMENDMENTS TO ORDINANCE 50-585 OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, PERTAINING TO HYATT GRANT PROCEEDS FOR COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS, GRANTS AND GRANT PROGRAMS
The general nature of such public emergency lies in the need to pass and publish this ordinance to authorize the release of funds for the purchase of special digital projection equipment and for costs related to its installation for Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In, which was recently purchased by an anonymous buyer to prevent its closure.
It is therefore expedient at this time that the City Council find and determine that a public emergency exists by reason of the foregoing and that the above entitled Ordinance be finally adopted on the day of its introduction.
Executed at Wichita, Kansas on this day of December 18, 2018.
MAYOR OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS. ibid. ↩