Remarks that may be delivered to the Wichita City Council at its meeting today.
Update from city council chambers: The proposal has been withdrawn for now, so I won’t be delivering these remarks.
Mr. Mayor and members of the council, developments surrounding the Renaissance Square project in the C.O.R.E. Redevelopment District are unfolding so rapidly that we need to step back and think about the wisdom of proceeding with the current plans. As things stand now, citizens can have little confidence in this project and the way the city has handled it.
For example, we’re told that a new entity, Joel Associates, LLC, has been formed to develop this project. Now, what type of investigation has been performed on this new corporation? Do we have its financial statements, and statements for its principals? Does this corporation or its principals have the financial resources to back up the guaranty the city asks them to provide? How much did Joel Associates, LLC pay Grant Gaudreau for his ownership interest in ICDC, LLC?
I would submit that a little shuffling of the ownership structure of the project is hardly assurance to Wichitans that this project is on the up-and-up. Further, what does it say about the judgment and the business acumen of the remaining owners if they thought Mr. Gaudreau’s past would not be uncovered, or when uncovered, would not be perceived as a problem?
Mr. Mayor, members of the council, we have a problem. A noted journalist said this on a public affairs television program last week regarding this project: “This is a project the city has been working on for years, and it was absolutely astonishing to me that in a relatively short period of time I was able to come up with something — I mean, they have a development department, they have a legal department, they have a police department, they have two ex-investigative reporters on staff. So why this came to light literally on the day of the vote was just astonishing to me.”
Reporting in the Wichita Eagle makes it clear that the City of Wichita does not have procedures in place to protect the interests of its citizens. It appears that a citizen wanting to finance an automobile or obtain a credit card is scrutinized more closely than are potential city business partners. Worse, it appears that the city is willing to enter into agreements and extend millions in financing to people who couldn’t get an automobile loan or a credit card. This does not qualify as stewardship of citizens’ resources.
So now the ownership of the business entity behind this project has been restructured to eliminate the developer whose past problems lead to delay. But there’s still a taint on this project. Citizen confidence has evaporated.
As reporting in the Wichita Eagle and my own investigation has revealed, there is no credit available for projects like this. Even if the city council were to approve this project this week, it would likely be some time before the project gets moving.
Time is not of the essence. Let’s wait before proceeding. Given the confusion at Wichita city hall that the Wichita Eagle has reported, citizens can have no confidence in proceeding with any projects like this until better procedures are put in place. Then, we’re not going to take city staff’s word that these procedures are in place, as recent events give us little confidence in its capabilities or judgment. We’ll need some independent confirmation that city staff and council members are to be trusted in matters such as these.