Long before hotelier Richard Kessler made boutique chic in Savannah, the Mulberry Inn set the standard for upscale hotels locally.
Now, the Mulberry is about to get a makeover from the company that redefined the boutique hotel experience in America.
Today is the Mulberry’s last, ending a 31-year run on East Bay Street. Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group will begin renovating the property on Monday, transforming the 145-room hotel from one that exudes traditional elegance to one with a more “flamboyant” and artisan feel.
The hotel will reopen under the name The Brice next spring, likely in late April or early May. The Brice will employ 65 workers, including many of the Mulberry’s 50 associates.
“Savannah is a destination city, a fun place to go,” Kimpton COO Mike DeFrino said. “Our type of hotel is desirable there.”
Kimpton owns and operates 60 hotels across the country. The company started in San Francisco in 1981, founded by a well-traveled Wall Street investment banker, Bill Kimpton, who recognized the cache of a European-style hotel. Kimpton was known for greeting guests as they entered the lobby of his first property, the Bedford Hotel in San Francisco, with a wine bottle and glasses in hand.
Kimpton died of leukemia in 2001.
His company bought the Mulberry Inn from Prince-Bush-Smith Hotels last December. The Prince-Bush-Smith group, which bought the Mulberry out of bankruptcy in 1992, still owns two Bay Street hotels, the Hampton Inn and the Holiday Inn Express.
The Mulberry will be missed, said Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli, but Kimpton brings a “high-end and highly recognizable brand that is very well known among the more sophisticated and savvy travelers.
“They will bring a new customer base into our city, one that is going to very interested in our restaurants, museums and tours and will likely have more discretionary income when they visit,” Marinelli added.
'Fun' town attracts fun hotel chain
Kimpton’s aim is to capitalize on the growing interest in luxury accommodations among Savannah visitors.
Three boutique hotels have opened downtown in the last decade. The AVIA, which last year was rebranded the Andaz by its parent company, Hyatt Hotels, along with Kessler’s Mansion on Forsyth Park and The Bohemian have proven popular with travelers.
Another boutique property, the Cotton Sail Hotel, is under construction and will open later this year.
“The Kessler hotels have done so well there it gave us some confidence that we could do that too,” Kimpton’s DeFrino said. “We’ve always thought that once a city starts to go boutique, more and more people are attracted to it. Kimpton opens up boutique hotels to people who wouldn’t have stayed there otherwise.”
Kimpton hotels are known for their design, customer service and amenities, including a wine hour every evening, in-room spa services, designer bicycles available to guests and a yoga-mat-in-every-room approach to fitness offerings. The company is also reputed for the restaurants it pairs with each property. Bill Kimpton is widely credited for starting the trend of hiring celebrity chefs to open restaurants in hotels. Kimpton joined forces with Wolfgang Puck to open Postrio at San Francisco’s Prescott Hotel in San Francisco.
The company has yet to share its restaurant plans for The Brice.
Kimpton officials did detail décor plans for the Savannah hotel. Ave Bradley, Kimpton’s senior vice president of design, wants to put a “modern twist” on Savannah’s traditional architecture.
The property will feature ironwork and awnings on the exterior, just as the Mulberry has, and the façade will be the color of Savannah Gray Brick. Inside, the rooms and common areas will feature some “surprising elements,” Bradley said.
“We never go into a market knowing what we want to do; we arrive and see what inspires us,” Bradley said. “I was inspired by the wonderful hospitality that exists there and that the architecture and color are traditional but not bashful. Think about the dapper men wearing the bright, happy bowties you see around town.”
The Brice’s opening will mark Kimpton’s return to the Southeast. The company previously owned a property in Atlanta but sold it.
The Brice is the first of several planned Kimpton properties along the Atlantic Coast between two of the company’s current destinations, Washington, D.C., and Miami.
“We foresee a lot of infill for that corridor,” DeFrino, the COO, said. “There’s a good business case for it. We’re excited to start in Savannah.”