Richard Kessler is Mr. Hotel
Richard Kessler made his mark on the hospitality industry, with The Kessler Collection defining elegance in luxury hotels. Now he’s brought that Midas touch to his hometown of Savannah, transforming a historic Southern home into a modern masterpiece, The Armstrong Kessler Mansion.
If you’re familiar with Savannah in the slightest bit, you’ll soon learn that many people who are born here find it hard to ever leave. No matter how worldly, how successful or how powerful, something draws them back. Entrepreneur and luxury hotelier Richard Kessler is one of those people. Born in Savannah and raised in Effingham County, he has a passion for the South — and his roots just got a little deeper with his acquisition and multi-million dollar renovation of what is now known as the Armstrong Kessler Mansion.
It’s almost as if the grand front door opens effortlessly and you’re whisked inside, back to an era many are only able to experience in photos. The great room leaves you speechless as you take in all the glory and magnificent decorations that one collects from travels to places far and wide. A man, dressed in jeans and a collared shirt, welcomes you with a warm smile and a firm handshake. You learn quickly that Mr. Richard Kessler, while as classy and sophisticated as they come, is just as hospitable as any true Southerner. When he escorts you into an exquisite and bright sunroom, you can’t help but get lost in his story — slightly daydreaming about the beautiful historical masterpiece you are lucky enough to be sitting in.
Designed by Henrik Wallin and completed in 1919, the mansion that sits at the corner of Bull and Gaston Streets was built for George Ferguson Armstrong, who served as chief executive of Strachan Shipping Company. Armstrong passed away in 1924, and in 1935 his wife donated the home to the city of Savannah to be used as the founding location of Armstrong Junior College. The mansion later served as home to a law firm for nearly 50 years until one day Kessler decided he wanted to call it his own. A quick call to his realtor later, he was the new owner. His next project, the Armstrong Kessler Mansion, was a nearly two-year restoration that is near and dear to his heart.
Kessler, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering and operations research from Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology), also took summer classes in the mansion back when it was Armstrong Junior College. “During the summer I would attend classes on the second floor. Back then it was miserable because there was no air conditioning,” says Kessler.
Kessler is no stranger to hard work and persistence. In fact, if you ask him what got him to where he is today, he says his father and mother; former business partner Cecil Day; a Georgia Tech professor who taught him creative thinking; and most importantly, persistence. “Winston Churchill said the most exhilarating feeling in the world is being shot at without result,” says Kessler. “Well, I’ve been shot at and missed before when it comes to dealing with complicated economies and business challenges, but I’ve always pulled through. Persistence is what got me through.”
In the early 1970s and at just 23 years old, Kessler worked with Cecil B. Day and founded Days Inn of America, which Kessler later sold in 1984. That same year he formed The Kessler Enterprise, Inc. and remains the chief executive officer. In April 2010, the Marriott International Inc., Autograph Collection made its debut with seven Kessler Collection properties and today, there are a total of nine properties in The Kessler Collection, including Casa Monica Resort & Spa in St. Augustine, Florida; Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront; and Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Kessler’s love for Savannah’s historic buildings includes other notable renovations such as the Mulberry Inn and the Historic Kehoe House Bed and Breakfast Inn. “The Mulberry Inn project I did was the first boutique hotel in Savannah. At that time people didn’t even know what boutique hotels were,” says Kessler. Kessler’s talent for weaving history with modern flair has made him a trendsetter in the hospitality industry. Kessler is also the brainchild behind the 500-acre Silverwood Plantation residential community in Rincon, Georgia; the 900-acre Georgia North International Industrial Park; and other commercial land developments. Aside from the Armstrong Kessler Mansion, his latest (and largest) Savannah project, Plant Riverside, a 670,000 square-feet, $280 million development on the west end of River Street is scheduled to open later this year. “I grew up in construction. There’s been speculation that if I ever had the chance, I would like to build a mixed-use development. I’d even like to build a new city,” smiles Kessler.
Subscribe now to the print edition for the full article.