Looking Back: Transformation of Plant Riverside District

Richard Kesler at the site of the new Plant Riverside District prior to renovations.


In 2012, the course of history for Savannah’s old power plant would be changed forever. The Kessler Collection acquired the site of the former Riverside Power Plant, established in 1912, following the plant’s decommissioning and remediation in 2005. Abandoned and in disarray, the site became progressively daunting to tame but increasingly indicative of untapped magnificence. Richard Kessler, president, CEO and COO of The Kessler Enterprise, is a Savannah native and well-known on the hospitality scene with wildly successful local projects including the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront and The Mansion on Forsyth. If anyone was right for this pursuit, it was Kessler.


Looking back, South began following Kessler’s ambitious, career-crowning development project for an article in June 2016, prior to the December 7 groundbreaking ceremony. Kessler told Robin Passante, “This is very meaningful to me; this is the biggest and most complicated and one of the most fun projects I’ve ever done […] I was determined to have this property because I felt like we were the only ones who could do it and do it well. I love Savannah, it’s my birthplace.” The 4.5-scre complex is a $350 million investment to transform the largest piece of undeveloped national historic land in America, and Kessler and his team have done just that.


Much of the story lies in the contrast of the before-and-after images, which demonstrate the artistry and unlimited imagination that is Kessler’s vision. Photographer Mark Staff captured images of the Riverside Power Plant in its abandoned state — sparse chambers, oxidized metals, flooded floors and exposed bricks and beams. Looking ahead to the July 29, 2020 ribbon cutting, the progress from the site’s former state, which is illustrated in the gallery below, is almost inconceivable.


At South magazine’s “Faces of the South 2020” Gala hosted at the Plant Riverside District, guests were able to wander the halls and exhibits, taking in the spectacle of the finished product. At the center of the JW Marriot hotel lobby is the infamous 137-foot, chrome-coated Anthrosaurus, which incidentally symbolizes how the impossible became possible. To a man who has developed over 100 hotels during his career, a global pandemic presented truly unprecedented challenges to Kessler’s plans for the Plant Riverside District’s development; however, as many businesses grinded to a halt, Kessler’s project adapted and does it ever have the glory to show for it.