When it comes to repurposing the Pearl Street water tower in downtown Sudbury, Jeff Perreault knows what it won’t be: a restaurant.
“I am not the restaurant guy,” he laughed during an interview to discuss his plans for the 112-foot-tall behemoth, which was decommissioned in 1998.
Instead of taking a cue from the city of Lethbridge, Alta., which opened a trio of restaurants in its old water tower in the early 2000s, Perreault is mulling a different approach. The water tower will serve as a focal point for a conference centre and 125-room hotel, which Perreault hopes to see built within the next five years.
He envisions a large conference centre on the 2.5 acres of property overlooking the city, linking it to a downtown-built hotel via a bridge that will cross over Notre Dame Avenue. The hotel will have 16,000-square feet on each of five or six floors, with 25 rooms per floor, while the conference centre will have multi-level parking with 420 spaces.
“There’s a definite market for it,” Perreault said. “I’ve found probably five groups of hotel owners that are looking at setting up their franchise or having a hotel in operation in Sudbury. They all want downtown.”
Perreault believes once the property is developed, it will attract the right business concept and the right tenant who will want to be in the water tower. Shared workspaces, a multi-purpose facility, executive offices or even the city’s proposed casino are all possibilities he is entertaining.
After Sudbury’s other, smaller downtown water tower was demolished last fall, advocates of the 56-year-old Pearl Street structure felt a new urgency to protect it. Perreault felt that same urgency when he returned to his hometown in 2006 after a five-year absence.
He was looking for space for advertising billboards when the water tower caught his eye.
“I always loved the water tower as a kid,” he said. “I thought, ‘I wonder what’s happening with that thing. Where’s it going?’”
As it turned out, its former owner, Cory Prouse, was looking to divest the structure and the two worked out a deal over the next few months. By November 2010, Perreault had purchased the property, and by February, had installed five advertising boards, measuring 32 feet by 20 feet, the revenue from which pays for the property.
Four of the five billboards are all rented for the next four years, Perreault said. His next step is to get financing in place for the hotel-conference centre project.
He recognizes he’ll have to attract an out-of-town investor with deep pockets, and with the site plan complete and the engineering complete, he wants to see financing secured within six months.
“It’s finding the right investor and then everything else falls into place,” he said.
To date, he’s had roughly 30 conversations with people about their ideas, but is always looking for more input, and he encourages people to share their ideas via the water tower website or Facebook page.
A new conference centre will provide different options to planners arranging their events, and the economic spinoff could be substantial, Perreault said. Beyond the jobs in construction and operations, Sudbury could become a new choice of destination for planners and their events.
“It’s really giving more options, more choice, better views,” he said. “Getting all those big conferences that are potentially not coming to town because we don’t have the room to accommodate all of them…there will be a ripple of services that come with the conference/banquet hall facility.”