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Opportunity arises for new owners of 1000 Islands Tower

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LANDSDOWNE, Ontario — Konrad P. and Heidi E. Linckh love their island in the sky.

They have found themselves on top of the world in the Thousand Islands by way of Germany and New Jersey. This spring they purchased the Thousand Islands Skydeck, where the view from the top is rivaled only by the new owners’ vision for their new venture.

The tower, 600 yards past Canadian customs on Hill Island, is nearly 50 years old. But the Linckhs have stepped up with a plan to bring new life to the tourist attraction, which they have renamed the 1000 Islands Tower.

On a recent day, the tower’s elevator whisked the couple to the first of three levels of the landmark, nearly 400 feet up, in 40 seconds. It was a postcard-perfect day in the Thousand Islands. To the southwest, one could faintly see the windmills on Wolfe Island. To the southeast, Boldt Castle peeked above the trees. Blue Mountain, part of Charleston Lake Provincial Park, could be seen to the north. In between various landmarks, the azure St. Lawrence River lazily flowed past stunningly green islands. From up here, the tiny boaters and motorists seemed to be in no hurry.

“We are just so thankful we can live and work here,” Mr. Linckh said as he took in the view.

Atop the tower is a crown of three levels. The first level is enclosed in plate glass. Guests can climb the winding interior staircase two more flights to the other two decks. On the third level, on a clear day, one can see about 40 miles into the distance.

“We have this great opportunity,” Mrs. Linckh said. “People ask me, ‘You must be tired with seven days a week here and all this excitement and everything.’ But I don’t have the feeling that I work because I love what I do.”

What they do is a far cry from what they used to do.

Until two years ago, Mr. Linckh, 41, was the CEO of the American subsidiary of LIOS, Linear Optical Sensors, a German company that manufactures laser measurement equipment. He was working out of LIOS’s New Jersey office, which he established.

Mrs. Linckh, 39, has a degree in tourism/marketing and was working in that field.

In 2006, the Linckhs, originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, applied for permanent residency in Canada.

“We always wanted to live abroad, at least for a while,” Mr. Linckh said. “Since English is the only language that we think we can manage outside of Germany, it was between the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”

In 2010, their request for permanent residency in Canada was granted, while at the same time, their American visas were not extended.

“So we were basically sent out of the country,” Mr. Linckh said. “But that gave us momentum to actually make use of our permanent residency in Canada.”

The couple had previously visited the Thousand Islands and were enchanted by the area.

“It was just a blast to see this wonderful boating area and the scenery with all the islands,” Mr. Linckh said. “It changes every minute. We fell in love with the river setting and all the islands.”

He said that in Europe, the only area that compares to the Thousand Islands is a region in Sweden. “It’s around Stockholm, with little dotted granite islands, which is like paradise. This pretty much resembled it and actually exceeded it.”

The couple moved to Gananoque, Ontario, in 2011 and began searching for business opportunities.

“For two years, we basically turned every stone in terms of businesses for sale,” Mr. Linckh said.

Among considerations: a sawmill, a window-framing business, a hotel and a gas station.

Meanwhile, Mr. Linckh obtained a job at Queen’s University, Kingston, as a laboratory manager. A short while later, he saw a story in the online magazine Thousand Islands Life about the 1000 Islands Skydeck being for sale.

“At first, the idea seemed completely outrageous,” Mr. Linckh said.

The tower had been on the market for 2˝ years. The Linckhs purchased it from Leonard and Jean Stratford, who decided to retire. The Stratfords had purchased it in 1984 from Robert McAlpine Ltd., Toronto and England. The tower opened on June 17, 1965.

The original asking price was $2.5 million, Mr. Linckh said. When the couple first considered purchasing it, the price had dropped to $1.9 million, he added. But they couldn’t seriously consider the tower at that price.

But the two motivated parties managed to work something out. Mr. Linckh declined to disclose the price paid for it but said he and his wife invested their life savings.

“Let’s put it this way — it’s fun for both sides,” Mr. Linckh said. “Everybody is very happy about it.”

In addition to the tower, the sale included 10 acres, two gift shops, a currency exchange, a 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall, an ice cream shop, retail space, storage buildings and parking for 100 vehicles.

It took just five weeks from their first thoughts of purchasing the tower to closing on it. The Linckhs went to work on developing a plan to bring in more visitors. They live on the property ith their 4-year-old son.

“What he really enjoys is all the kids we have on the weekends here,” Mrs. Linckh said. “He makes friends and he’s a bit sad when they leave.”

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Mr. Linckh said that in its first years of operation, the Thousand Islands Skydeck attracted 100,000 people a year. Last year, the amount of visitors topped off at 25,000.

The novelty of these sorts of towers, Mr. Linckh said, has worn off.

“Now, with people traveling so much, they have things like (Toronto’s) CN Tower, etc.,” he said.

The couple also realize they own a low-tech amusement in a world increasingly dominated by high-tech distractions.

But with a list of refinements, they hope to increase the number of visitors. For their first year, the couple would be happy to equal last year’s attendance figures.

The most ambitious of their plans is to open a café with a lounge and coffee bar on the enclosed first deck.

“We really wouldn’t mind if people came up here and spent three hours,” Mrs. Linckh said of the planned Skydeck Café.

More down to earth, they plan to open a deli and hope small things like Adirondack chairs on the lawn make the property more inviting.

“People love getting ice cream and sitting out there on the lawn,” Mrs. Linckh said.

The tower is available for birthday parties and weddings.

German-style baked goods, made by Mrs. Linckh, are for sale in the tower’s gift shop. She previously sold her items at markets in the Kingston and Landsdowne areas.

The tower is wrapped by a staircase, which will be put to use. (A local joke is that the stairs are actually a corkscrew, allowing the tower to retract into the ground in the off-season). A charity stair climb is tentatively scheduled for this fall to raise money for a local nonprofit organization. A friend of Mr. Linckh’s counted 396 steps.

“It took about half an hour to get to the top,” he said.

The stairs are meant as an evacuation route, Mr. Linckh said. But the couple gets many requests to climb them.

“If you let somebody you don’t know really well go up the staircase and they run out of steam, or discover they are afraid of heights, you have to go get them,” Mr. Linckh said. “You don’t want to do that on a daily basis.”

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When they considered purchasing the facility, Mrs. Linckh worried how the tower, with its 18-inch-thick reinforced concrete walls, would stand up over the years.

“But Konrad, being the engineer, figured it out and explained to me how it could work,” she said.

Mr. Linckh went to some associates at Queen’s University, who directed him to some professionals who did X-rays on the concrete and its reinforcements. They found the structure sound.

The Linckhs also wondered about the elevator.

“My nephew in Germany is an elevator mechanic, so that was perfect,” Mr. Linckh said.

They talked over Skype for two hours going over technical terms. The nephew was then sent videos of the mechanics of the elevator. “It’s in very good condition,” Mr. Linckh said.

The view at the other end of the elevator never fails to lift the spirits of the tower’s new owners. Mrs. Linckh said that some days, she has to remind herself that she hasn’t treated herself to the trip to the top.

“At the end of the day, I’m tired but I ask myself, ‘Did I go up today? Maybe I should go!’ Then I go up and say, ‘Ok — it’s worth it.’”

One-upping his wife, Mr. Linckh adds: “Imagine the sunset up here with a glass of wine and a barbecue.”

The details
WHAT: 1000 Islands Tower
HOW TO GET THERE: Cross the Thousand Islands Bridge at Collins Landing onto Wellesley Island and travel about eight miles to Canadian customs. The tower is 600 yards past customs, on Hill Island.
COST: $9.95 for adults, $5.95 for children age 6 to 12, free for children 5 and under. Taxes are extra.
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in the summer, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall. The new owners are considering keeping the tower open in winter. The previous owners closed it in October.
OF NOTE: Batterman’s Point, a Parks Canada facility, is near the tower. It has walking paths, a dock and shelter areas.
ON THE NET: www.1000islandsskydeck.com
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