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Plant Riverside District Redefines Savannah’s Riverfront

by Jan Schroder

May 18, 2021

PHOTO: © COURTESY OF PLANT RIVERSIDE DISTRICT

April/May 2021

Millions of visitors a year navigate the uneven, hand-laid cobblestones along River Street in Savannah, visiting the dozens of shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions housed in the former cotton warehouses lining the Savannah River.

Last year the riverfront of Georgia’s oldest city transformed with the opening of the $375 million Plant Riverside District, which extended the riverfront by 1,100 feet and developed a once-seedy part of the city into a popular mixed-used development housed in a former 1912 power plant.

Hospitality brand The Kessler Collection, founded by the Kessler family, whose roots in Savannah date back to the 1730s when the city was founded, developed the district.

“We love Savannah, and we saw in this site the opportunity to create something Savannah didn’t have and what it needed,” said Mark Kessler, president, COO and son of founder Richard Kessler. “The location on the river was ideal and had so much potential.”

After purchasing the property in 2012, the company solicited input from and brainstormed with members of the community for ideas about what to develop. “Our vision was to create a family-friendly entertainment district and redefine what the riverfront is. It was like nothing we had done before, and we wanted it to be a legacy for our company.”

Phase One of the development opened in summer 2020. When the second phase opens this summer, Plant Riverside District will have 419 hotel rooms, a collection of shops, more than a dozen restaurants, a parking garage, meeting space, a live music venue and two rooftop bars.

A bronze statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. will be the centerpiece of the new Martin Luther King Memorial Park, an expansive green space with an outdoor stage, terrace lawn and large interactive water fountain with daily light shows.

A popular feature of the development is Generator Hall. Yes, it’s the spacious lobby of the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District, but you’ll think you’ve walked into a natural science museum where a 135-foot chrome dinosaur welcomes you to explore. Wander around and you’ll see massive geodes, fossil exhibits, an Ice Age bear skeleton and a prehistoric tortoise shell.

Savannah

PHOTO: © COURTESY OF PLANT RIVERSIDE DISTRICT

The Plant Riverside District received an enthusiastic response from visitors and locals in Savannah, where tourism and hospitality are major economic drivers. “We have engaged the community and made Plant Riverside District an economic generator for the community,” Mark Kessler said. “It has been a catalyst for more development at that end of River Street.”

“The new JW Marriott Hotel and Plant Riverside District have already become what developer Richard Kessler envisioned — a game-changer,” said Joseph Marinelli, president, Visit Savannah. “Even through its opening during the middle of a global pandemic, Plant Riverside has already begun to transform Savannah’s waterfront experience for locals and visitors alike. From the giant geodes to the historic nature of the power plant to the array of new shops and dining experiences, Plant Riverside is a destination unto itself, within one of America’s most popular visitor destinations — Savannah.”

Part-time residents Mindy and Mike Egan agree with that assessment. “Plant Riverside is a fantastic addition to an end of River Street that badly needed an upgrade,” Mike said. “We love that there is something to do and see for every member of the family, from the high-end restaurants to the stunning artifact displays in the hotel lobby to our favorite: the rooftop patios. We have added it to our list of ‘must-sees’ for any visitors that come to town.”

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