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Lethbridge, Alberta builder spends $2 million to turn water tank into restaurant

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by Pat Brennan

Builder Doug Bergen always marvelled at his town’s water tower while growing up in Lethbridge, Alta. It was the tallest structure out on the wide open prairies south of Calgary.
Lethbridge, Alberta builder spends $2 million to turn water tank into restaurant

LETHBRIDGE, Alta.

Builder Doug Bergen always marvelled at his town’s water tower while growing up in Lethbridge, Alta. It was the tallest structure out on the wide open prairies south of Calgary.

So, he was shocked when he learned Lethbridge proposed to scrap the retired water tower.

Bergen, an architectural technician and developer, persuaded the town to sell the water tower to him and more than $2 million later he opened it as one of Canada’s most unconventional restaurants.

He believes it is the only restaurant in the world built into a water tower 12 storeys above the ground. “The town council fought me all the way on this project. They made me jump through some very unreasonable hoops, but on our opening night in 2004 the entire council was there for the free booze and food,” said Bergen.

City engineers claim the tower, built in 1958, had outlived its usefulness and it sat abandoned for several years after a new community reservoir replaced it. “The town’s public works feared it was unstable and should come down, but I had consulting engineers check it out and found it was still strong and sturdy. The municipal guys wouldn’t even climb up the tower’s ladder to check inside the tank,” said 44-year-old Bergen.

“It’s been an iconic structure in Lethbridge and southern Alberta and if I was going to keep it alive I wanted to make it a place that the public could visit and use.”

It took him two years to find a tenant, but eventually Ric’s Grill, a chain of nine steak and seafood restaurants in Alberta and B.C. moved in and has become a popular tourist attraction in Lethbridge.

Bergen designed the 9,000-square-foot restaurant with two levels for eating and a third as a lounge in the bulbous water tank, which used to hold 500,000 gallons of water 36 feet deep. He had to hoist nearly 1,700 tons of washed gravel into the water tank to replace the weight of the water to keep the tank from swaying in the prairie winds.

He cut 32 windows into the side of the tank, plus skylights in the top. A catwalk was built around the outside of the tank so maintenance crews can wash the windows. An elevator was installed in the 8-foot-diameter central shaft of the tower to carry customers up to the restaurant. Eight narrower legs support the weight of the tower. Bergen added large banners between each of the legs, which he rents out as billboards.

A 60-foot-tall transmission aerial was added to the top of the water tower.

Everything but the customers and the Alberta beef steaks had to be lifted to the restaurant by mobile cranes. Steel floors were crafted to create the three levels.

Douglas J. Bergen and Associates designs and builds real estate and commercial projects in Southern Alberta, such as vacation cottages in the Crownest Pass in the Rocky Mountains.

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