Latest Kessler project aims to breathe life into West River St. - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Latest Kessler project aims to breathe life into West River Street

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Savannah native Richard Kessler has unveiled plans for his biggest project yet in his hometown.

Thursday, Kessler laid out his plans and pictures for a $100 million, three phase project, including a boutique hotel with a bottom level retail storefront, a 15,000 foot exhibition center for music and art events, and a new public parking deck which would be partially funded by the City of Savannah.  

Kessler says he has a vision for the former Georgia Power property and it would take at least a year before investors could be approached, but he has high hopes.

"I had been watching that building for sometime, not knowing what would ever happen to it, but obviously was very curious about it because it has tremendous potential and a lot of people interested in it," Kessler told WTOC. "Frankly, I think we'd do the best job."

Kessler says his project would transform and anchor the west end of River Street.

The mega-million dollar hotel project along the Savannah River has fueled high hopes and cautious optimism from city officials and neighboring business.

It was only a few years ago, the Kessler Collection sold Savannah properties to the Marriott, but all of a sudden, Kessler is back and with his biggest plans ever aimed at transforming West River Street.

Right now, if you walk by the vacant property during the day, where night clubs and bars sit closed across the street until they open later at night, it's a ghost town.

"This is like an afterthought. People come to the Hyatt and turn around. They think that is the end of River Street," Harold Reeves, one of several artists who run the Village Craftsmen on West River Street, told WTOC. "We're looking forward to whatever Kessler has in mind."

The Village Craftsmen has been on River Street and survived, in the same location, for 23 years. Reeves says the entire concept Kessler has brought to the table is exciting and visionary, if it happens, but also wonders about the buildings nearby across the way.

While on one hand, Reeves says it hurts his businesses because those bars and night clubs are closed during the day giving the appearances there is nothing on the west end of River Street, cutting down their daytime traffic, he also worries about those businesses closing because the building is eventually sold.

Kessler himself hasn't ruled out the possibility of buying more properties to compliment the current planned project.

"We could be. We could. If we had those properties it's possible we could integrate them into the total comprehensive plan and probably do an even better job," Kessler said.

"I would not necessarily want to see that. I think there is room for everybody down here," Reeves told WTOC.

To compliment the property plan, the city is also talking about extending the river walk and beautifying that end of Indian Street and Martin Luther King Junior Blvd. 

Alderman Tony Thomas has even mentioned talking to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame about possibly re-opening the hall of fame in Savannah in another riverfront space Kessler is still developing as part of this project.

Kessler says if the funding is available, and all the pieces fall into place,  we could see physical changes by the end of 2014.

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