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Rewriting History

Kessler Collection Poised To Expand With Redevelopment Of Savannah Project

Monday, January 07, 2019
Steve Pike
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Richard C. Kessler’s footprint on his native Savannah, GA, will continue to grow in 2019 as his Plant Riverside District is poised to open this summer.

Set along the Savannah River, the Plant Riverside District might be Kessler’s greatest vision to date – and that’s saying something considering that through his Kessler Collection, he has created such luxury hotels as the Grand Bohemian Asheville in North Carolina; Beaver Creek Lodge in Colorado and Casa Monica in St. Augustine, FL. In addition, the Grand Bohemian Hotel Greenville in South Carolina and Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte in North Carolina each are expected to open in 2020.

When it’s completed, the Plant Riverside District project will include a 4.5-acre riverfront entertainment district; 1.5 acres of parks and plazas; and a 419-guestroom JW Marriott Hotel. The JW Marriott will join The Mansion on Forsyth Park and the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront in the Kessler hotel portfolio in Savannah. It’s no coincidence that the Plant Riverside District’s hotel will carry the Marriott flag. Kessler is one of the founding members of Marriott’s Autograph Collection of hotels and resorts.

The Plant Riverside District is the largest redevelopment in the history of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District. When it opens, according to Kessler, the Chairman and CEO of The Kessler Enterprise, the District will provide approximately 700 jobs and is projected to provide a 4:1 economic impact, funneling new revenue back to the city and state.

Plant Riverside District, Kessler told Hotel Interactive®, will offer enhanced views and provide direct access to the riverfront with multiple connections back to the city. “There has been no public riverfront in the area for more than 100 years, so we’re looking forward to reconnecting it all once again,’’ Kessler said.

Kessler, who helped found Days Inn of America in 1970, is further connecting with his hometown and its history with the opening of the Armstrong-Kessler Mansion on Forsyth Park. Generally regarded as the finest private home in Savannah when it was built in 1919, Kessler in 2017 acquired the property – designed in the Italian Renaissance style - as his private residence and soon began renovation work to turn it into a luxurious destination for a limited number of private events.

Among the mansion’s previous owners was Jim Williams, the antique dealer whose story is told in John Berendt’s classic Southern novel, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

While the Armstrong-Kessler Mansion will be the hotelier’s personal playground, of sorts, the Plant Riverside District will be a public playground that will include a series of high-end retail shops; 13 restaurants, including a steak house, pizzeria, and Mexican restaurant; an oyster shack; concert venue; and Natural Science museum.

“Growing up here, Savannah had a lot of derelict buildings that really needed a lot of work. There was not a lot of money here at that time,” Kessler said. “Savannah was very prosperous in the late 1880’s up through the 1920’s and then went through a real slump. Buildings weren’t maintained properly and Savannah lost a lot of good things from the 1930’s though the 1960’s. It was about in the 1960’s when Savannah visibly started catching its breath again and really moving forward and has continued accelerating after that. It continues to get better and better, we’re taking better care of historic buildings and restoring what the destinations have.”

Plant Riverside District fits one of Kessler’s business philosophies of building hotels “where people want to go,” not where they have to go.

“If you build a hotel where people have to go it tends to become commoditized and you find everything looks alike, nothing special,” Kessler said. “You want to build in a market where people want to go. The reason is, if they want to go, then they are interested in something and they want to be there so they’re willing to pay for that. You have to be in markets with a good tourism industry, weekend getaways, romantic weekends, those type of things. If the market already has something special, I don’t need to go there. I look for markets that need something special and unique.

He added, “I love Savannah and I have a passion for it.”

Park Riverside District is designed to take Kessler's passion to the next level.

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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