Plant Riverside District
As plans to open one of the largest and most ambitious developments in Savannah history roared forth (complete with a 137-foot animatronic dinosaur), the global COVID-19 pandemic slammed the hotel industry like an earth-shattering asteroid. Here’s how they triumphed over adversity.
In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 shutdowns, the lobby of the JW Marriott at the Plant Riverside District felt like a scene out of “Jurassic Park.” Packing material and construction detritus littered the floor around Anthrosaurus, the 137-foot, chrome-coated, animatronic showpiece of the renovated Generator Hall. All that was missing was a “Plant Riverside” banner floating down as a metaphorical T-Rex ripped Anthrosaurus from the rafters.
But you’d be remiss to assume the pandemic meant certain annihilation for the bold, new development and its champion, Richard Kessler. Construction sallied forth, not to be stymied supply delays and unexpected challenges. Determined to see his project through, Kessler worked long days and nights, resolving to bring the development to fruition through sheer force of will.
“It was like running a circus with wild animals you can’t control,” Kessler said. Striking words from a developer who’s opened well over 100 hotels, but the Plant Riverside District is not just a hotel. “It’s a sophisticated Disney World,” Kessler explained, “It’s an entertainment district, and everything is highly detailed. If you could see the number of detailed decisions, it would blow your mind. There have been hundreds every day that you wouldn’t normally have in a hotel situation. It’s been a very sophisticated process, far more involved than just building a hotel.” From perfecting the lighting displays to selecting plants for the District’s promenades to tasting every dish conceived for the dining outlets to creating playlists for 20 different sound zones, Kessler has been involved in decisions large and small.
Indeed, the Plant Riverside District features many of the trappings one would expect of a sophisticated Disney World — 16 dining outlets and lounges, 12 retail shops and galleries, natural history exhibits, three fountains including one with the most water jets on the East Coast, a public park space, a quarter-mile of Riverwalk, and a 400-seat entertainment venue, Powerhouse Live. At its center lives the 419-room JW Marriott located in a restored power plant, built circa 1912.
All the effort is worth it for Kessler to make this contribution to the City of Savannah — a $350 million investment. “I’m from Savannah, and, frankly, I wouldn’t attempt this project … it would not be so interesting to me unless it was in Savannah,” he said. “It’s big, and it’s complicated. But once it’s done, it will be remarkable. It will be the center of tourism in Savannah.”
He put in quite a bit of thought and engaged members of the community to develop the vision for the property after he first purchased it, gathering focus groups to brainstorm ideas for the space. “What we’ve tried to do is think about what Savannah needed and what it didn’t have. That’s what we tried to build here at Plant Riverside,” he explained.
Kessler credits his team for accomplishing what they’ve been able to accomplish despite confounding delays and fear amid a global pandemic. “The good news is, very few people on-site have been affected. We continue with testing here, taking temperatures, and teaching them how to stay healthy. They’re working long hours, late hours, 12-14 hour days, weekends.” Leading by example, Kessler is right there with them.
With a little luck and a lot of safety precautions, the District will open for business with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the end of July and a larger, three-day opening celebration to follow. “People want to come, and we want them to come,” Kessler said. “When people discover what this is, it’s going to be a ‘Wow!’ moment. We look forward to everyone coming and enjoying it as part of the community.”
Dining in the District
Distinctive dining offerings abound at Plant Riverside District. Delight your taste buds with a dizzying array of culinary adventures.
Opening Late July:
Baobab Lounge — An upscale lounge rooted in African culture, serving the finest craft cocktails and authentic small plates in an intimate ambiance.
District Smokehouse — Serving slow-smoked delicacies seasoned to perfection and delectable treats with casual bar seating. Try the 14-hour slow-roasted pulled pork or the signature Brunswick Stew.
District Seafood — Seafarers head to District Seafood for premium ingredients and melt-in-your-mouth creations. Battered, buttered, fried or baked, the flavor will send your taste buds into overdrive.
Electric Moon — A high-energy, vibrant rooftop lounge showcasing a youthful beverage program paired with popular street food influenced with flavors from around the world.
Graffito — Step inside a modern pizza kitchen and you're enveloped in the scent of fresh baked bread, basil and tomatoes wafting through the air. Tradition meets Modern with clean lines and an open kitchen.
Riverside Sushi — Here, sushi isn’t just an artform, it’s a cultural experience along the Savannah River. Expert sushi artists are waiting to craft fresh, high-quality sushi rolls, best served alongside stunning views of the river.
Riverside Biergarten — This classic Bavarian experience brings an entertaining and energetic spirit to Savannah’s new riverfront. Celebrate in true Bavarian style with lively Oktoberfest-inspired music, authentic German-style fare and a vast array of beer.
Turbine Cafe + Market — Head to the Generator Hall all day for fresh-baked treats, specialty drinks from a vintage-style espresso machine, nutrient-packed smoothies and super-charged favorites like Turbine Benedict or Georgia Shrimp & Grits.
Opening Later This Summer:
Stone & Webster — Named after original Architects of the Power Plant building, Stone & Webster is Savannah’s premier chophouse, reimagined on the riverfront.
Myrtle & Rose — An enchanting rooftop garden, where romance is woven into every detail, from the breathtaking views of the city and delicious shareable bites, to the modern ambiance and handcrafted libations.
Savannah Tequila Co. — Delight in a Mexican adventure at this full-service tequila bar and cantina combining traditional and modern takes on Mexican cuisine.
For more information on the Plant Riverside District visit their website PlantRiverside.com