“I always like to do a theme, a story, behind everything we build,” said Savannah, Georgia, hotelier Richard Kessler. “And what this place used to be, it was a power plant. It was a place where energy was generated. And so I thought, why don’t we tell the story of where energy comes from, where power comes from.” This is how Savannah’s new Plant Riverside Districtcame to have an animated replica of the 135-foot-long Jurassic-era Amphicoelias Fragillimus.
In 1912, Georgia Power bought 4.5 acres of prime waterfront on the Savannah River and fenced it off to house a coal-fired power plant. The plant was the only source of power in town through the mid-'50s. Access to the riverfront has thus been closed to the public for more than a century, even though the power plant itself was decommissioned in 2005. Now, the riverfront is opening up again -- and the plant is being converted into a pair of hotels anchoring the Plant Riverside District, a $330-million entertainment hub that represents the largest redevelopment project ever undertaken in Savannah’s Historic District.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the new district to the public is scheduled for April 30. The area will feature a dozen food and beverage outlets, including four rooftop bars, one of which you can exit via a slide(!!!). There will be LED-lit swings, a pipe organ that plays every day at noon, a speakeasy tucked away inside a garden, an open-air movie theatre, an art gallery, an adult playground with life-sized board games, and a riverside stage for concerts that will be curated through a partnership with Live Nation.
And, in the lobby of the power plant-turned-hotel, you’ll find the dino -- a to-scale replica based on a bone excavated in Colorado in the 1870s, which might have belonged to the largest dinosaur ever discovered. The 230 chrome-dipped bones took three years for the paleontologist Kessler contracted to build. The replica even moves -- its neck goes about 12 feet up and down. You can see the appeal for selfie-taking visitors.
“I think it’ll bring in, honestly, millions of tourists,” Kessler said. “I’ve been thinking about how we’ll even handle the flow of tourists who want to have their picture taken with the dinosaur. But it’s not only the dinosaur. What we’ve done is, we’ve expanded this into really a full exhibition of natural sciences.”
Plant Riverside District’s essential theme is that of a natural history museum. Walk through the hotels and lounges and outdoor venues and you’ll also spot a prehistoric tortoise shell, a bear from the Ice Age, the largest copper nugget ever discovered -- another tie-in to the storytelling of how this place was once used for the transmission of electricity -- crystal geodes taller than you are, and mastodon tusks longer than you are.
“I guarantee you if you ask 1,000 people in Savannah, not one would ever say there were dinosaurs roaming up and down this coast, or mastodons,” Kessler said. “But there were.”