NEWS

Banks reject public television station's "final offer"

Terry Bibo

Bank of America and Commerce Bank have rejected the $4 million final offer made by WTVP-TV, Channel 47 to settle its debt.

"We met today, hoping we’d hear something back, something positive," WTVP executive board member Harry Puterbaugh said Monday. "We didn’t hear anything positive. The bank sent us a letter saying we’re not close to what they think is the true value."

Although Tuesday is the deadline to reach a deal, the banks have not indicated they will shut down the station, but will appoint an assignee to handle the transition and sale of its assets.

"The last thing we want to do is go down this path," said Shirley Norton, Bank of America spokeswoman. "We’d rather work with them. We’ve tried for the past two years."

The bank demanded license holder Illinois Valley Public Telecommunications Corp. repay $6.9 million remaining on a $10.3 million loan by today. The WTVP board has said $4 million — $2 million in cash, mostly from the recent Save Our Station pledge campaign, and a $2 million mortgage from National City Bank and the Illinois Facilities Fund — is the best it can do.

"They believe there’s more money in liquidation," said Puterbaugh. "I’ve seen the numbers. I certainly do not see that."

WTVP entered a complicated financing arrangement to move from Bradley University and buy new equipment in 2001. In 2005, Bank of America said it would not renew the letter of credit which enabled the station to borrow the money. Although the station has made all its payments and the loan was scheduled to run until 2022, the bank maintains it was in technical default because it did not have the level of pledges required.

"They hold all the cards. They decide how we proceed from here," Puterbaugh said. "If they want the keys to the building, we’ll do all we can to facilitate that."

He said the board has determined that bankruptcy serves no purpose. The assets are pledged. He said the $4 million offer is a stretch, but can be done. The station has "turned over every rock" to raise money and been amazed by the community’s $1.5 million pledge response.

"In my wildest dreams, when we proposed this at our last board meeting, I thought we would get maybe a couple hundred thousand and that would be it," he said. "I wish Bank of America would be there to listen to the phones ring."

Norton repeated the bank’s position that it does not comment on client relationships, but said WTVP has already made much of this public. Since early 2005, she said, the bank has met and made offers to resolve the issues.

"We recognize the importance of WTVP to the Peoria community and offered these proposals in order to help WTVP avoid going dark," she said. "The bank has diligently sought to deliver reasonable solutions that work for both the Peoria community and the bank’s customers."

She said the station has indicated it would turn over the keys, and the bank is waiting to get that in writing.

"Then we’ll explore our options," she said.

Likewise, WTVP is waiting to hear what those options are.

"We sit back. We wait to hear from Bank of America," Puterbaugh said. "We made our best offer. Do they want to pull the plug? Do they want to accept our offer?"

Terry Bibo can be reached at (309) 686-3189 or tbibo@pjstar.com.