Southern hospitality welcomes owners, developers in Savannah

SAVANNAH, GA—Hospitality—make that Southern hospitality—is in strong evidence here as this popular destination welcomes not only millions of tourists annually, but the hotel owners and developers who help house them and keep this town thriving with new projects and additional inventory.

“In terms of hotel development, there’s so much in the process of happening,” said Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the historic city’s CVB, describing industry interest. The executive noted there are three projects “we’re particularly excited about.”

These include Marriott’s Perry Lane Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel, developed by New York-based Flank Inc. and slated to open May 17 in the city’s historic district. The 167-key, new-construction boutique hotel, which will be managed by Denver’s Sage Hospitality, will occupy two six-story buildings at 256 East Perry St. directly behind Drayton Tower, a property Flank Inc. converted to residential use in 2011.

Jeff Holland, the property’s director of sales and marketing, said Flank co-founder Jon Kully had been debating between Charleston and Savannah for a hotel project (Flank also has a full-service Hilton in Brooklyn, NY). “But after doing a lot of investigation, he really fell in love with Savannah. He really felt the bones of the city, the architecture, the people. To his credit, he didn’t build right away. He took more time and got to understand the culture…and he wanted to bring that to life in a hotel,” said Holland.

“It’s really going to be Savannah’s entrée into the five-star hotel market,” said Marinelli.

Another highly anticipated development is The Drayton Hotel, a project in motion by another New York developer, Maypole Group LLC, and owned by 7 Drayton Street Hotel LLC.

According to Marinelli, the high-end boutique hotel at Bay St. will offer about 50 rooms with a specialty restaurant and coffee shop. “It’s really going to be spectacular. They’ve literally taken this historic building all the way down to the studs,” he added, noting the hotel would likely open in 2019.

The third project is the massive adaptive-reuse/new-construction effort from Savannah native and iconic hotel entrepreneur Richard C. Kessler, who, in addition to being president, CEO and COO of The Kessler Enterprise, also brought to the city the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, the Mansion on Forsyth Park, and once owned the historic Kehoe House B&B. Kessler is planning to convert the historic Georgia Power Plant—it supplied power to the city for some 100 years but has been dormant for a half-century—on Savannah’s River St. into the largest Kessler property to date and flag it as a 420-key JW Marriott.

Now known as the Plant Riverside District project, Kessler is revamping roughly 4.5 acres that encompass the power plant into a mixed-use development consisting of commercial, leased space for retail, 13 food and beverage outlets (including the city’s legendary Leopold’s Ice Cream), a 500-car parking deck and the luxury hotel set across four different buildings that will either be restored to meet historic guidelines or designed to meet the district’s regulations. Among other components planned are a 3,500-sq.-ft. and a 7,000-sq.-ft. ballroom; an approximately 4,000-sq.-ft. entertainment center that also could be used for group meetings; an accompanying park; three rooftop bars; an art gallery that will include pieces for sale; a Poseidon Spa; wine-blending and wine-tasting venues; and kiosks for local retailers.

“It’s fun to be with Richard when he talks about it. He has a 40-ft. dinosaur skeleton that will be placed inside the lobby of the hotel,” said Marinelli, noting the hotelier also is having an antique pipe organ from one of the city’s churches restored so it can find a home in the hotel’s lobby as well.

“This power plant, which has been an eyesore on the riverfront for so long, will really be the catalyst for transforming the riverfront,” said Marinelli.

On the west end of the riverfront, the project is slated to open by 2020.

On the east end of the same span, Atlanta-based North Point Hospitality Group recently developed and opened a 160-suite Homewood Suites by Hilton at 611 East River St., and has three other hotel projects in the works.

And there are more hotel projects underway, which signals good news for the city, which in 2016 (latest figures available) welcomed 13.7 million visitors who spent $2.8 billion and stayed an average of 2.7 days.

Any number of attractions keep visitors and conventions coming to Savannah, from its burgeoning culinary scene to its latest revenue generator, the 6,500-sq.-ft. American Prohibition Museum filled with wax figures, vintage automobiles and artifacts of the Roaring Twenties’ era detailing the city’s role during that period.

“What most people get excited about is the authentic speakeasy that we have,” the museum’s director, Kayla Black, told Hotel Business, noting it serves cocktails of the period.

Music also is a key attraction. Barry R. Cohen, president of New York-based insurance/risk management firm Cohen Partners LLC, also is chairman of the board of the Savannah Voice Festival, which presents performances year-round and incorporates a camp program to encourage singers.

“We put them out to play and sing at all the venues in Savannah, including churches and various locations like the historic Davenport House. We also have professional artists who perform all around the world. They also sing with us since they came out of our organization,” said Cohen, noting the group’s repertoire ranges from operas to Broadway show tunes, including original material composed by one of the board members that highlights local history.

“With hotels, we do a lot of collaboration with the concierges, from the Andaz to the Hyatt to the Westin Harbor, so we’re very much about tourism in addition to the locals,” he added.

Also set to open here within the next two years is trendy furniture retailer West Elm’s four-story hotel across from Forsyth Park. Additionally, a six-story Aloft at 512 W. Oglethorpe Ave. is coming out of the ground via HOS Management, which last year opened a Fairfield Inn & Suites here. HOS also is working on a 103-key Cambria at 321 Montgomery St.

The 173-key Alida Hotel is slated to open at 412 Williamson St. Developed by Ohio-based Rockbridge Capital LLC, the hotel will span an entire block on River St. and feature 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a signature restaurant, rooftop event space and bar, fitness area, pool and lobby bar.

Massachusetts-based Lark Hotels is poised to open a 55-room, four-story hotel at 401 Habersham St.

Also on the horizon is The Liberty Hotel. In 2017, the Savannah Historic Review Board gave approval for an 8,400-sq.-ft. hotel to be built across from the Savannah Civic Center; its projected opening is summer 2019.

Similarly, the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission submitted a “Development of Regional Impact” application to build a 645-room hotel with 685 parking spaces at 1147 East President St.

And, The Georgia International and Maritime Trade Center Authority reportedly has begun the pre-development process with Atlanta, GA-based hotel developer Songy Highroads and Omni Hotels & Resorts for a convention hotel with a rooms range between 300-500 to be built on Hutchinson Island across the river from the city.

“So, really, there’s a tremendous amount of hotel development going on in the city,” said Marinelli. HB