VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: An open letter to the commercial lending community

August 18, 2008

Dear lenders:

Perhaps you have seen the recent headlines that declared suburban Indianapolis among the best places in the country to live and raise a family.

Perhaps you've also taken note that there are a lot of things happening in our communities. Big projects abound in the Indi anapolis area, including Lucas Oil Stadium and the Midfield Terminal at Indianapolis International Airport.

People are so excited about the new stadium they lined up for hours trying to get a tour ticket.

It's a good thing those projects were well under way before this whole "recession" thing hit. The way things are going, you may not have been willing to back the loans for the projects.

Imagine trying to build a community, provide residents with nice places to live, to work and be entertained without the money to make it happen? We rely on you to make developments possible. Until recently, you've been generous (maybe too generous, we've learned). Now, we're all reeling from the problems in the subprime and commercial mortgage-backed security markets.

Asking for calm

The real reason I'm writing, though is to ask you not to panic. The financial market is cyclical, we all know that. We're in a down time, and it's no time to make things worse by overreacting to the market.

I understand you've got shareholders red-hot mad about falling stock prices and regulators breathing down your neck, telling you to squeeze more cash out of your borrowers.

So, you're calling up loans, asking for more cash on existing loans under the guise of decreased appraisals. It's clear you need cash to balance the books and make the shareholders and regulators feel better. But, let's be reasonable. Let's not panic.

You've got a lot of loyal customers out there. Customers who are successfully servicing loans based on the agreements you made. Those same customers are getting a triple whammy.

They're getting pressure from you to pay off the loan or provide more equity, and they've got the tax collectors who are asking businesses to pay double-digit increases, and then you've got increased fuel costs and food prices feeding an infla tionary economy.

Businesses are getting hit from all sides. Many are getting stretched too thin. Many are closing shop, laying off employees, filing for reorganization.

These are Indiana businesses, too. People who live, work, play and spend here in our state.

Please take note: Businesses that have shut their doors cannot pay off their loans.

Forget the quick fix

So, here's my proposition. Before you consider the quick-fix to your own business by pulling loans or demanding increased equity on loans that are being serviced, please look at the big picture.

Consider how new demands and regulations are going to have an impact on your customers for months to come.

More so, consider how decisions you make today are going to have an impact on entire communities. Consider what would happen if no one wanted to take a chance again on a big development project-say bringing the Colts to Indianapolis or building a mall in the middle of downtown Indianapolis.

Consider how one decision can change an economic outlook for a community. Consider also the collective impact a lot of small decisions: 22 new jobs over here, 13 more over there. This is how an economy is built, with courage, vision and capital.

A matter of time

Yes, these are tough times. But it's just a matter of time before things start turning around, before businesses want to invest in our communities through development, which really will help bring in more revenue for our communities-and for banks, of course.

There are good deals with good creditworthy customers out there to be done today. But developers, entrepreneurs and business owners need you to meet us half way. Surely, there's a way to not let a recession erode all the progress we've made, and all the plans we've made for the future.

Mann is managing partner at real estate development firm Mann Properties in Indianapolis. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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