The City Council also gave him a five-year subsidized lease on the dealership property. For the first year he had to pay only $200 a month rent, then $3,000 a month for the subsequent four years.
At the same time, Mitchell took an active role in local civic and political affairs. He helped raise money for several charities and in his first two years of business gave several thousand dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor Walter R. Tucker and two councilmen, Robert L. Adams and Floyd A. James.
In May, 1987, however, he told the council he needed a loan of $175,000 to expand the business. In voting for the loan, Adams compared Mitchell's business struggles to those of Lee Iacocca, the man credited with saving Chrysler from bankruptcy. One day, said Adams, Mitchell "may be a great big businessman like Mr. Iacocca and all the big boys."
Mitchell got the loan and was given three years to repay it at 7% interest, which was 1.25% below what banks were charging their best commercial customers that year. Now Mitchell can't sell cars and he still owes the city $115,887 on the loan. He is behind $21,813 on his monthly loan payments, according to a report prepared this week by the city staff.
Mitchell also owes the city $12,000 in back rent for the dealership property, according to the report. In December he sent the city a $9,000 check for three months back rent and it bounced, city officials said.
Several city officials expressed surprise last week when they learned that the state had canceled Mitchell's license. The auto dealer, they said, had assured city officials when the dealership was closed in December that he would settle his legal problems and reopen soon.
City Manager James Goins said he does not know what the city will do to recover the money it is owed. But Goins was firm on one issue: He said he would oppose any move by Mitchell to get more financial assistance from the city.
"Presently," Goins said, "he's not in the condition we'd want to do business with."
But Adams counseled patience: "He hasn't said he wasn't going to pay us."
The city, said Adams, is trying to generate sales tax revenue, and to do that it has to help firms by loaning them money or selling them property at affordable prices. "To us it's an investment," Adams said. "A lot of people make bad investments."
Several city officials said they believe that another dealer can be found to open a Chevrolet business if Mitchell does not reopen. "I don't think that we are going to have a problem," Councilman James said. "There are other dealers who want to move there."
Goins acknowledged that within two years after the city opened the auto mall, officials realized that they would never reach their goal of having 14 dealerships there. The city has brought in other kinds of development to the area, he said, pointing to a hotel and convention center being built on part of the original 66-acre site. Work on the hotel, however, has been stalled for two months because of labor and financial problems on the part of the developer.