A London lawyer has boutique-hotel plans for the iconic Bud Gowan building on Clarence Street downtown

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The iconic Bud Gowan building in downtown London could soon be reborn as Hotel Featherbone, a luxury boutique hotel with a restaurant and lounge.

Ian Johnstone, a London lawyer, has taken possession of the building at 387 Clarence St. and he’s confident there’s a market for another downtown boutique hotel in addition to Hotel Metro.

The Bud Gowan building is the perfect location, he said.

“That is a special place. It’s an amazing building and has great presence.”

Built in 1892, the Italianate building is a downtown landmark and included in the city’s heritage inventory.

The hotel will derive its name from the building’s first occupant, the Canada Featherbone Co. which manufactured corsets.

The building will be extensively renovated to create 12 luxury suites, each with a different heritage theme, Johnstone said.

The hotel will include a ground-floor lounge and a steakhouse restaurant in the basement. The two venues would be named Bud’s and Gowan’s in tribute to the building’s longtime owner.

Gowan was a veteran retailer who retired in 2012 after 60 years in men’s wear and formal-wear rentals, but he took over the Clarence Street building and filled it with an array of antiques and curios gathered from all over the world.

Gowan died in 2015 at age 87.

One feature of the building was London’s oldest elevator, still creaking along when the building closed in 2012.

The elevator can’t be rebuilt to meet fire-code regulations and will be replaced by a new unit that will take guests to a rooftop patio bar, Johnstone said.

The building will need some structural as well as cosmetic work that will take about two years to complete, he said.

“I don’t look at these properties as money pits. If you do it right, they can make you a ton of money,” said Johnstone, who is a master of laws graduate from Western University and owns a heritage home in Old North. He was a police officer in Peel Region before becoming a lawyer.

His firm, Johnstone & Cowling, specializes in employment law and has offices in London and Toronto.

Heritage restorations can be expensive and complicated, but Johnstone has a track record restoring heritage buildings. In 2013, his firm restored a mansion on Jarvis Street to house its Toronto office.

“It was in extremely rough condition when I bought it. We had to straighten every floor and every stair in the place. But we more than doubled the value of the building,” he said.

More recently he has renovated a heritage building at 284 Dundas St. for the firm’s new London office. That building started out as a cigar factory, a major industry in 19th-century London. The renovations included exposing the original yellow brick walls.

With the demolition of most of the Kingsmill building, Johnstone said the elevator in his building at 284 Dundas St. now holds the title of the oldest working elevator in the city.

The next step is interior and exterior renovations to the ground floor retail, occupied by the Nicholas and Elizabeth bridal shop. That shop temporarily will relocate to the Bud Gowan building while work is done.

Johnstone purchased the Bud Gowan building from Jonathan Fyfe-Millar for $765,000. Fyfe-Millar, who owns Pinpoint Publishing, bought it in 2012 and planned to turn the upper floors into residential units and open a cafe on the ground floor, but he said changes in his business prompted him to delay his retirement and drop plans to develop the building.

Janette MacDonald, manager of Downtown London, is confident there is a market for another boutique hotel.

“People like something unusual, something funky and fun,” she said.

Hotel Metro was downtown London’s first boutique hotel. The 20-room hotel opened in 2009 on Covent Market Place opposite the market. MacDonald said the Metro is thriving and is converting more rooms to meet demand.

Johnstone said he is not concerned about plans by developer Tony Graat to build three highrise buildings at Clarence and King streets, next door to the Bud Gowan building, saying it will complement his project and provide more business for his hotel and restaurants.

Johnstone said he wants to complete renovations at 284 Dundas St. first, so work on the Bud Gowan building may not begin until next year, but he intends to closely supervise the reconstruction.

Once completed, the hotel will be operated by his son, Collin Johnstone, a Western University graduate who served as a communications officer in the office of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Collin Johnstone said the hotel will be a major asset to downtown.

“While maintaining the historical significance of the building, the Featherbone Hotel will support London’s tourism industry, bring Londoners downtown, and create jobs in the downtown core,” he said.



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