By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Old Groton Inn, the historic downtown hotel and restaurant that burned to the ground two years ago, could rise from the ashes to welcome back patrons if an Ipswich investment firm's plan to rebuild it from the ground up pans out.
Christopher Ferris, owner of 128 Main St., LLC, said the company is under agreement to acquire the Groton Inn property from its owner, George Pergantis. The company represents a diverse group of investors that invests in hospitality businesses and housing projects, according to Ferris, who currently serves as general manager of the Eastern Yacht Club in Gloucester.
Ferris and the investors are looking to build a replica of the circa-1678 inn, with 20 to 30 rooms plus a 60-seat "gastro-bistro" that serves craft beer and wines. On the inside of the old-world stagecoach inn would be a lodge with modern convenience and a "four-star" feel, he said.
"There is no lodging in Groton, per se, for families visiting Lawrence Academy or Groton School," Ferris said, referring to two private prep schools in Groton. "We saw the need and hope to fill the void."
Old Groton Inn, a downtown landmark that was on the National Register of Historic Places, graced Main Street until a four-alarm blaze reduced it to rubble on the night of Aug. 2, 2011. The state Fire Marshal's Office has said the fire likely started from electrical problems.
After the fire, area residents who have fond memories of visiting the inn flocked downtown to mourn the loss of the building. As the movement to preserve and restore what was left of the inn grew, the building inspector's demolition order for the inn prompted a public outcry and criticism against Pergantis for following the order without a fight.
The building was torn down on Nov. 3, 2011.
Pergantis has since sought to open a new Coach House Seafood Grill and Restaurant in an existing building in the rear side of the 8.5-acre land.
News about the land deal with Ferris and his group came as a surprise to many residents.
"I'm personally very excited about that," Selectman Stuart Schulman said of the plan. "It will be great. It's going to be a win for everybody."
Ferris said he believes it's important for the new structure to closely resemble the old one.
"The town of Groton obviously has a huge hole in Main Street," he said. "We would like to come in and make something that Groton can be proud of."
Ferris would not disclose the tentative price tag for the property but said his group has been in discussion with Pergantis for 15 months. He hopes to present a plan to Town Meeting scheduled for Oct. 21.
If everything moves smoothly, the group should be able to break ground in the fall of 2014, Ferris said.
Ferris said the restaurant will aim for "casual elegance." It will serve produce and craft beer from an area within 100 miles from Groton and should complement the nearby Gibbet Hill Grill, he said.
Selectman Joshua Degen said he only heard about the pending deal last Thursday and will not have firsthand knowledge of the project until he gets together with Town Manager Mark Haddad on Tuesday. Ferris and his associates have reportedly met with Haddad to discuss permitting and other issues.
"Mark's strategy is economic development," Degen said, adding that he applauds any efforts the town manager may have made to help the deal become a reality.
Schulman, who served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for many years before becoming a selectman, speculated that the developer will ask Town Meeting to include the Groton Inn lot in the downtown overlay district.
The project is unlikely to invite public opposition because the group seems to have "the right ideas" for the lot, including bringing back the inn business and the old look of the building, Schulman said.
But this is not the first time Pergantis has secured a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property. There was at least one deal that fell through not long before the fire.
"There is a side of me that says, 'It's not over until it's over,' " Schulman said.
Pergantis could not be reached for comment Sunday night.