Recharging the River Front
Written by Paige Glazer Photos Contributed by Plant Riverside District and by Reflections
Inspiring. Artful. Electric.
These three words are perfect when describing Plant Riverside District, the new entertainment district in Savannah that most definitely lives up to all the rage.
Downtown Savannah, with its delightful southern charm and beautiful historic buildings, is calling again with an exciting new development to explore. Plant Riverside, another masterpiece of real estate developer and boutique hotelier, Richard Kessler, is loaded with expressive energy, both figuratively and quite literally. The space was revitalized from the likes of a power plant built in the early 1900s. Today, weaving the past, present, and future of energy throughout the story within, this incredible hotel offers a great escape like no other, even for locals.
“I spent days with the people in Savannah—people in business here, people who have lived here forever, and people who are newer to the city. I wanted to know what they wanted that we didn’t already have,” says Mr. Kessler, who grew up and resides part time in Savannah. “What came from the interviews was that the adult-centered entertainment is great here, but there isn’t much for the kids—they get bored. Their parents are happy going through the history, but what’s next?” From the hands-on learning experiences to digging for dinosaur bones and splashing in the fountains, careful vignettes are placed around the property to ensure fun for all.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Savannah began to fear the possibility of being unable to source enough power for the growing city with its existing resources. In 1912, Riverside Station, an electric power plant designed by George Baldwin and engineered by Stone & Webster, was built on River Street. The plant was the most efficient in the South at the time and sustained Savannah for more than 92 years before it was decommissioned in 2005.
“When you start from a power plant, you have to do something from energy, right?” Mr. Kessler begins the explanation of the thematic fabric woven throughout the entire site. “So, what we did was basically convert the plant into a museum about energy.” The execution of his vision is easy to describe and imagine, yet a little hard to believe without seeing. A 135-foot dinosaur soars above head in the main lobby. Geodes of every size, shape, and color create corridors suited for a Smithsonian exhibit. Careful preservation of historic characteristics inside of the plant, such as the original manual switchgear panel that powered the city, still hangs on the wall, and a giant crane and enormous chains loom in the ceiling. The two iconic smoke stacks were thoughtfully included in the design of the hotel— rooms were literally built around the solid concrete structures. The inside of the stacks, sound domes, another unique educational experience for all. “We are telling the story of where energy and power comes from. It’s important to kids and to adults.”
Mr. Kessler says that the collections of art and activities at Plant Riverside stem from his own passions—rocks, art, music, great food—all of which are plentiful in his newly built downtown district. It is interesting to note that these pieces were all curated by Mr. Kessler himself through his travels abroad. The cuisine is diverse with multiple areas of influence—an African lounge, a sushi garden, a German beer garden, Italian pizza, and coming soon, authentic Mexican. You might feel like you are at Epcot with all of the options—that too, intentional by design.
Good friend and local, Amy Haley, works for The Kessler Collection as their Corporate Director of Business Travel and Analytics. Her job is to maintain relationships with accounts nationwide that stay at the Kessler Collections properties when traveling for business, so when she took us on the grand tour of Plant Riverside, we were really able to gain insight into the very personal connection Mr. Kessler has to each of his properties and his attention to preservation. We took note of the way the original brick is exposed, scaffolding and steel beams were designed around, undoubtedly more difficult than tearing down what existed and starting over. Chatting with him later, the excitement in his voice brought to light his creative ingenuity, which is obviously a large part of his success.
Plant Riverside is anchored by the luxury JW Marriott Savannah, and is part of The Kessler Collection, a hospitality brand created by Richard Kessler himself. Currently, there are ten destinations in the collection. Meant to be wandered about and to call one back with their artfully designed Bohemian twists, it isn’t just the captivating inside of the hotels, but also the cities in which they exist. Locations are chosen because they celebrate culture, art, cuisine, and music, in many inspiring ways.
They invite you to experience something new and memorable. There is no way to experience the new district in a day, and as the project gets closer to being built out, there will be 14 restaurants in all, 419 hotel rooms, a rooftop pool, additional live entertainment venues, a park dedicated to Martin Luther King, and a 7,000-square foot ballroom. “You get all the experiences and you don’t have to get on an airplane. There is nothing on the East Coast like this,” Kessler adds.
The riverfront has been recharged with excitement!