Richard Kessler visited St. Augustine in the mid-1990s on a trip with his college-age daughter, Laura. They stayed in a bed and breakfast inn and took in the sights. Kessler, CEO of The Kessler Enterprise Inc., had just finished the Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando, and wondered if a luxury hotel had a place in the Nation’s Oldest City.
He walked to the city offices in the Lightner building and asked to see the city manager.
“I asked him if there was any property available for a hotel,” Kessler said. “He walked to his window and pointed across the street to the courthouse. ‘You can buy that,’ he told me.”
Arthur Andersen had done a feasibility study for a hotel in St. Augustine’s downtown advising it should have no more than 80 rooms, no more than three stars, and would take a long time to be successful.
“I didn’t believe that,” Kessler said. “I talked with Laura and we decided St. Augustine needed a luxury hotel.”
The historic Casa Monica Hotel opened its doors on Dec. 10, 1999.
“It was profitable in the first year,” Kessler said.
To celebrate the property’s 20th anniversary, Kessler and staff threw a party Dec. 11. There was an open bar with beer, wine and champagne, and hors d’oeuvres and cake were served. Kimberly Wilson, general manager, recognized employees Luis Estes and Gillen Durling who have worked at the hotel for 20 years.
Flagler College President Joe Joyner said, “This is a very special place for me.” The school has a partnership with the hotel to host forum speakers. “Hospitality is the fastest growing major at Flagler,” Joiner said. And many of those students intern or work at the Casa Monica.
Admission was free, but guests were asked to bring an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots. Gary Maguire was on site to collect the toys. “I only have a pickup,” he said. “I’m calling for a bigger truck.”