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East Village plan proposed for heart of Cashiers by Orlando-based Kessler Collection

May 2, 2022

By 2030, Cashiers could have a new 24.5-acre development including a lodge, greenspace and retail shops in the heart of the village that is focused on conservation and the preservation of the town’s character. The multi-million-dollar mixed-use development, which is being spearheaded by Orlando, Fla.-based hospitality company The Kessler Collection and designer Christian B. Sottile, would contain greenspace, a lodge, glamping sites, retail and a community center called Cashiers Hall. The retail spaces would house local businesses, such as honey makers or artists. This  proposal is less than half the size of the proposed Stephen Macauley development that had been presented for the heart of Cashiers in late 2020.

The Kessler Collection and Sottile met with several stakeholders last week to introduce the project to the community. The development would be located on the Steve Zoukis parcel southeast of the Cashiers crossroads between Marigold Street and Montevista Road. The development would also leave about one-third of the property open for greenspace, according to design plans. In addition, the project would be an extension of The Village Green and take advantage of public amenities in Cashiers such as the Village Ramble. The Kessler Collection has also developed other projects across the Southeast such as the J.W. Marriott Plant Riverside District in Savannah, Ga., and several Grand Bohemian Hotels, such as those in Charlotte, Asheville and a new one currently under construction in Greenville, South Carolina next to the Reedy River and Falls Park. “I think we can do something very special,” Kessler Collection CEO and chairman Richard Kessler said. “Everything we do is uniquely tailored to that community or city that we are in. We really focus on what the community needs and what is it that they don’t have that they need.” Kessler said the property is  currently under contract thanks to community members such as Liz Harris, Bill Horton, Ann McKee Austin and other stakeholders. Sottile, an architect and town planner, is also the owner of  Savannah based design studio Sottile & Sottile and is the former dean of the School of the Building Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

While in that role, he focused on historic preservation and architectural history. “I’m very much involved in the building environment at different scales,” Sottile said, “as well as different places in time and how they evolve and grow. We’re very happy to be back in Cashiers because this is a real place and has a real history.” Sottile has won several national accolades, including recognition from the Urban Land Institute on a decade-long redevelopment project involving a 100-year-old power plant next to the Savannah River. That project received the Global Award for Excellence from ULI, Sottile said. ULI is currently scheduling a panel of experts with the Cashiers Planning Council to visit the village and assist with proposed development ordinance amendments. The national organization has been asked to come to the village to assess the needs of the town related to future development. “When we finished the project, we had about an acre and a half of open space for parks and plazas,” Sottile said. “This  connected immediately back to the city’s fabric. It’s a preservation project, it’s a town planning project and it has new design too. It’s a town building. Savannah is a very sensitive historical city.” “I had a chance to look at this site when I was visiting up here with Ann about a decade ago,” Sottile said. “So, I had marked it way back then so I could see all the progress that had taken place since that time. We came back to study the site very carefully.” Kessler said there are a lot of similarities between what the company accomplished in Savannah to what is being proposed for the site in the heart of Cashiers. Once the development is built, the Kessler Collection would also stay and maintain their construction. Kessler said the lodge, which would be located on the east side of the property, would employ about 150 workers. The project would be completed in two phases, with the first phase containing about 75 percent of the development. Kessler said once the proposal has been approved by the county, he anticipates the project to take four years to complete. “We are focused on what the community needs,” Kessler said. “Let’s build something you need, not something you already have.” Sottile said the development would also use the existing streets that run through the property and the construction would use some of the natural tiers for major landmarks such as the Cashiers Hall. The site has also already been graded, and he said he looks at it like a series of low plateaus. “We can actually learn a lot from the old roadways that are  here,” Sottile said. “We really want to be in sympathy with the mountain village area, and we’ve been thinking about how to reconnect to uses that were once here that maybe could be here again. The big, overarching theme here is that this is not a new project. This is already, in a sense, here. There’s already a previous development pattern on this site. We’re not starting with a blank piece of paper.”

The Zoukis property is now under contract, and an email from the Develop Cashiers Responsibly group said the park land would be added to the Village Green’s properties and connect to the Village Ramble. Develop Cashiers Responsibly does not have any financial investment or commissions in this property, Horton said. “The Kessler Collection has been very open with the DCR leadership team in developing their initial plans for this property,” the DCR email said. “From the plans that have been presented so far, we are pleased to say that the Kessler plan appears to be consistent with our group’s name and purpose to Develop Cashiers Responsibly. They are working with our community to be a collaborative partner as they thoughtfully develop and maintain this special area in the heart of town. The Kessler Collection has developed their proposed plan to honor the existing contours of Cashiers, holding true to the nature of our small historical village, and meet the guidelines of the Cashiers Small Area Plan. They’ve asked DCR to help them identify people and groups that should be included to share the plan. The DCR leadership team has met with the Kessler team and the outcomes have been very positive. DCR is committed to remaining involved as the process continues and helping to keep the community involved in the process. The track record of The Kessler Collection has been proven through their previous work and partnership in historic communities.”

Written By: Michael O’Hearn from Crossroads Chronicle on Wednesday, January 12, 2022