Jeff Perreault had an ambitious vision for one of Sudbury's most visible landmarks, but it all came crashing down after he received a devastating diagnosis last summer.
Through his company, Media Environmental Inc., Perreault purchased the 34-metre Sudbury water tower atop Pearl Street in 2010, and the 2.5 acres of land that surrounds the large structure.
The water tower has hosted large billboards since that time. These cover the property costs, but the owner's longer term plan was to build a hotel and conference centre on the property, which overlooks the city's downtown core.
The hotel would have featured 16,000 square feet on each of five or six floors, with 25 rooms per floor, while the conference centre would have included multi-level parking with 420 spaces.
Perreault later downgraded his plan for the property to a condominium with 35 units. In both cases, the water tower, built in the mid-1950s, would have remained intact.
But in June 2014 that plan fell part when Perreault was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 32.
The invariably fatal neurological disease attacks a person's nerve cells and impairs their ability to control their muscles. The average life expectancy for a person with ALS is two to five years.
“I started getting weakness in my hands,” Perreault said, describing his early symptoms.
He was an avid downhill skier in the winter, and did wakeboarding in the summer. He noticed something was wrong when he had trouble putting on his winter gloves and holding on to the ski rope when he was out on the lake.
The disease quickly progressed, and the once active young man soon became relegated to a wheelchair.
“I can't really use my hands anymore, or my arms,” Perreault said.
With the drastic change to his life, Perreault said his business plans become secondary. “I had to sell all my assets,” he said. “The tower is the last thing I've got left.”
He married his girlfriend after his diagnosis, and they moved to London, Ont.
Perreault has also dedicated the last 20 months of his life to a new foundation he started with the Belanger family – owners of the The Belanger Ford Lincoln Centre in Chelmsford.
The Adaptive Canuck ALS Foundation has raised more than $300,000 for stem cell research at the University of Toronto that could eventually lead to treatments for people living with ALS.
There is no cure for the disease, but Perreault said he hopes the research funding could lead to a Canadian pilot clinical trial in ALS patients before 2018.
As for the water tower, he said he has had positive talks with investors who would pursue their own visions for the property.
“We're just trying to finalize something with some potential buyers,” he said. “Someone will do something good with it. Nobody calls me to tear it down. Everyone calls me to see what they can do with it.”