Publisher's note... Stories about Boca Grande: Shining necessary light or unfairly malicious?

Sort of like that optical illusion (right) where one sees the woman pictured as an old hag and, to another, she’s a young, beautiful lady, last week’s Commonwealth stories on Boca Grande Capital’s expenditure of public funds generated a mix of reaction.

Among them: “paranoid, distrustful towards Boca Grande and their finances,” “tremendous journalism,” “misinformed,” “articles were well done and very detailed,” “irresponsible and unnecessarily slanted,” “we’re lucky to have a newspaper that keeps us informed.”

Perhaps how you viewed the stories is as telling about your predisposition concerning the Boca initiative as it is about the stories’ actual shortcomings or merits.

And that’s OK. You should feel strongly about the Boca plan. It’s like a roller coaster ride — exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Like it or not, it is dramatic, comprehensive, expensive, exciting and larger in scope times 20 than anything a Ripon developer has attempted during the past century.

In short, to quote City Administrator Steve Barg from last week’s stories, “This project is of a size ... we never have seen before, so the amount of planning and research to make it work is not our area of expertise.”

Boca’s efforts to revitalize downtown deserve intense public scrutiny, ongoing assessment, lots of questions.

By sharing synopses of city documents with the public last week, the Commonwealth was trying to fulfill its mission of providing maximum transparency to what Boca is doing.

One person might read into the stories that with available public funds nearly depleted just 10 months after the development agreement was signed and with most of the 10 projects still to be completed, Boca is spending public dollars like a shopaholic with a no-limit credit card.

But another might be gratified to learn that Boca hasn’t been sitting still, or blowing smoke. It has kept its word on many fronts, moving apace on multiple projects simultaneously — the Ripon Inn & Spa, McGuire’s Brew Pub & Steakhouse, the old Benkoski building, Republican Presidents Museum, Norman’s family restaurant and other future downtown retail and residential spaces.

Money both public ($6.87 million) and private ($3.5 million) has been spent on property acquisition (and clearing mortgages to pave the way for third-party financing), marketing and branding, research, public relations, legal services and yes, construction.

Boca promised that whenever possible, it would use local services and contractors. Invoices accompanying disbursement requests seem to reflect this in spades.

Likewise, Boca Chairman Jim Connelly repeatedly has promised that Boca projects would be done correctly — “outstanding” is the word he uses — for the community and for customers. In all three of last week’s stories, he was quoted making this point over and over again. This comment was typical: “What we are trying to do is to bring the best of the best to Ripon, but to bring it in such a way that it utilizes what’s already there in Ripon ... we intend to do this right.”

If Ripon Roadhouse Pizza is any indication, Connelly & Co. have kept their word. The project was magnificent.

But excellence is costly — last week’s stories clearly point out that Boca is not revitalizing downtown on the cheap.

So let the critics snipe and the boosters cheer. Both camps’ passion emanates from their love of Ripon.

One person observed: “[For a newspaper that] is so pro Boca, that was a tough article. I’m sure Jimmy & Frankie will understand this critique & have an appropriate response. Way to sell papers.”

For the record, the Commonwealth is neither pro Boca nor anti Boca. It is pro democracy, which means the public deserves to know how its dollars will be spent and how the payback has been arranged. That’s what you read in last week’s paper.

— Tim Lyke

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