Despite efforts by residents and historical preservationists to save parts of the Old Groton Inn after it was ravaged by fire in August 2011, the Main Street landmark in Groton was demolished later that year.
Part of the inn dated to 1678, and it was considered one of the nation's oldest operating inns. It is said that Paul Revere and presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, and William H. Taft stayed at the inn, which was accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Now a group of investors is looking to purchase the property, which is owned by George Pergantis, and build a replica of the historic building.
Ipswich resident Chris Ferris said his group has signed a purchase and sale agreement for the property, and plans to put the project before voters at Town Meeting this fall.
Groton officials expressed excitement about the proposal, which they say would fit the town's rural character and complement existing businesses like the Gibbet Hill Grill on Lowell Road, and new ventures like a planned bakery on Main Street.
"This is really great news for the town,'' said Town Manager Mark Haddad. "This is one of the top properties in Groton, and it's going to be a big win for the town. It will really add to the gateway of the town.''
Ferris said plans call for replicating the exterior of the old inn, with guidance from local historians to make sure it is as accurate as possible. He said some original granite foundation stones were sold after the fire, but his group will look to buy them back.
The new inn would look completely different inside, however, he said, updated to four-star quality with 20 to 25 guest rooms and a 60-seat pub featuring locally sourced beer, wine, and food. He said the inn will look to use bread from the local bakery, and beef and produce from Gibbet Hill Farm on Lowell Road.
"We're looking to come into Groton and be a part of Groton and rebuild the inn to something folks can be proud of,'' said Ferris, who is general manager of the Eastern Point Yacht Club in Gloucester.
Plans also call for eight to 10 guest cottages in the back overlooking the view shed of Gibbet Hill. Out front, Ferris and his partners want to re-create the old carriage house, which would include a multipurpose room that would display memorabilia from the old inn, and would be available for community use.
Also out back, not attached to the inn, would be 12 to 15 apartments available for short-term or long-term rentals, Ferris said, with 25 percent set aside as affordable housing for income-eligible tenants.
"There is a need in Groton for affordable and nice rental units,'' he said.
Ferris said his group — friends from all over New England — has been looking to develop an inn for three years. One of its members is a Groton School parent who noticed a need for quality lodging to house parents visiting there and another private school in town, Lawrence Academy.
While the business plan was put together with the school traffic in mind, Ferris said, guests attending functions at the Barn at Gibbet Hill facility are also often looking for lodging. He envisions the inn hosting school parents during the week and wedding guests on weekends.
The developers met with some selectmen and Planning Board members recently to outline their vision for the property. Haddad was there, along with the town's attorney.
"They really want to be part of the community,'' Haddad said. "It's not going to be a fly-by-night operation. It will be a part of Groton and that's really enticing.''
Planning Board member Russell Burke said he walked away from the meeting with a positive feeling about the project.
"They have a very smart business plan, and plan to capitalize on two world-class boarding schools, and have reached out to Gibbet Hill, which has a brisk function business,'' Burke said.
Burke said the project is especially appealing compared with what else could have gone there. Officials had worried the prime site in Groton Center would remain empty, or be used for a gas station or strip mall.
"I think it's a good opportunity and will add vitality to the downtown in a manner that's characteristic of the community,'' Burke said. "We can't bring the old historic structure back, but we can replicate it.''
Burke, noting that the devil is in the details, said he looks forward to the rigorous review process that will follow if Town Meeting approves the project.
Haddad said Town Meeting must give concept approval to any project bigger than 10,000 square feet. The fall session is set for Oct. 21.
The subsequent step for the project would be obtaining permits from the town's Planning Board and Historic District Commission. Ferris said if all goes well, the developers would break ground in the fall of 2014. Construction would take about 18 months.
"I think the town is fortunate that this team has been put together,'' Burke said. "I think what they are proposing and what they are representing will fit nicely in town.''
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached bu e-mail at email@example.com.