The Kessler Collection’s Plant Riverside District, anchored by the 419-room JW Marriott Savannah, has opened as Savannah’s Entertainment District in Savannah, GA, a $375 million project that represents the largest redevelopment in the history of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District.
The 4.5-acre waterfront district features more than a dozen restaurants and lounges, including Baobab Lounge, an upscale parlor rooted in African culture; Electric Moon, a high-energy rooftop bar; and Graffito, an authentic Neapolitan-style pizzeria. The quarter-mile extension of new riverwalk offers open-air riverfront dining at District Smokehouse, District Seafood, and Riverfront Biergarten, the latter in partnership with Savannah-based Service Brewing. The development also offers access to an art gallery and a riverfront park honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Creative Director Diana Kessler said, “This project was designed to entertain the locals and approximately 14 million visitors a year who seek unique experiences and authentic accommodations that will inspire our guests and engage them in a way they haven’t experienced Savannah before. We even weave in threads of education in an immersive experience highlighted by our natural science museums exhibits.”
These exhibits include a 135-ft. chrome-dipped dinosaur; oversized geodes, gemstones and fossils; a prehistoric tortoise shell; an Ice Age bear; and the world’s largest nugget of Copper.
In addition to natural science museum exhibits, Kessler noted that art has always been a component of the company’s hotels, and with this project, the company turned the buildings into a complex of museums.
“The Power Plant has a natural science meets industrial chic feel,” she said. “We commissioned two different photographers, Terry Allen and Jay Canterbury, to capture the beauty and grit of the power plant before we began construction and some imagery during the construction process as we discovered various treasures throughout the process. We used their work as art throughout the property using different printing techniques to display their work and tell the story of the history of the power plant. I really like how the images turned out printed on metal, it brings out the true color and dimension of the image.
“We commissioned Sarah Pelfrey of Artisan Inc to create colorful large scale resin panels for the glass elevators,” she added. “We will sell all of these works in our Grand Bohemian Gallery located in the Power Plant building. The Three Muses is romantic and timeless with a modern edge and European detailing. The Three Muses has the largest collection of art by Michael Parkes on display and is so fitting for the concept. The Atlantic is a maritime concept—handsome and contemporary with custom furnishings inspired by a regal yacht. We commissioned an artist named Shane Pendley to paint a series dedicated to the Atlantic building with ties to the Savannah River and the beauty that surrounds it. He has this great craft of layering and one of his paintings has an old map of the Savannah River slightly hidden in it.”
Kessler noted that the design process was purposeful, thoughtful and intensive. “We wanted to respect what the site provided us as a canvas and the history of Savannah, all while introducing something unique,” Kessler said. “Therefore, the inspiration of this project is multifaceted. We wanted to maintain as much of the existing power plant as possible by finding ways to reveal the history and authenticity of this building. When a guest experiences the property, there are many architectural and design details that pull from the history of the power plant. This includes exposing and integrating the original structural steel into various spaces, highlighting the original smokestacks as they pass through the guestroom floors, to the custom furniture and detailing in the finishes.”
Kessler provided an example of how some of the design came together. “The site plan of this project consists of five main buildings along the Savannah river that are all connected by a tunnel. Right before we started construction on the Power Plant building, I was standing in the Generator Hall looking down to the basement (which now houses our spa and fitness center and provides access to a back-of-house tunnel for our employees) and noticed this puddle of water that had gorgeous tones of deep emerald in it with a reflection of the Generator Hall skylight above,” she said. “I took a picture of it and thought to myself, ‘This would be a stunning carpet pattern and a great way to tie the story of the Savannah River running through the historic power plant before it was decommissioned.’ We started working on an Axminster carpet pattern with OW Hospitality that had no repeat. The idea of the color selections was to show how color reflects on water representing the different color schemes of each hotel concept.”
Within the JW Marriott, guests can experience three different concepts highlighted by the complete transformation of a circa 1912 power plant, Kessler said.
“We have tones of emerald greens and greys for the Power Plant guestroom corridor carpet, lavender and grey for the Three Muses guestroom corridor carpet and tones of navy, ocean blue and grey for the Atlantic guestroom corridor carpet,” Kessler said. “One of the smokestacks of the project penetrates through the elevator lobbies in the Power Plant building. In that area, I took the reflection of the Generator Hall skylight and layered that on top of the moving water pattern of the carpet. We are really pleased with how that turned out, a work of art in itself.”
Kessler highlighted some of her favorite features. “My favorite key element in the Power Plant is definitely Miss Chromina Joule, our 135-ft. chrome dinosaur that stands tall in the original Generator Hall of the Power Plant Building,” she said. “My favorite key element in the Three Muses Buildings is our Myrtle and Rose Rooftop Garden that has great views of the Savannah river and bridge. My favorite key element of the Atlantic Hotel is the lobby; it feels like a maritime jewel box within the building.”
Overall, Kessler said, “The ambiance of the Power Plant building changes from day to night. It is very energetic during the peak hours of the day and transforms into a state of calm late in the evening/early morning hours. While the Three Muses is soft and romantic, the Atlantic is strong and powerful like the ocean.”