It’s summer in the city and kids scramble across the shallow terraces that tilt towards Princes Street.
Workers sneak down the steep cobbles to escape the city centre bustle, tourists take a breather from the sights and occasionally an act from the Military Tattoo will slip from the Castle ramparts to entertain them upon the stage of a weary-looking Ross Bandstand. The crumbling paint, drained blue folding chairs and grim weather-worn flanks form as much a part of the West Princes Street landscape as the now-defunct Ross Fountain.
But it is a scene that is set to change, and not before time.
The ageing Ross Bandstand – no longer fit for purpose – will be replaced by a landmark venue capable of hosting a range of small-scale to large events.
The Ross Development Trust (RDT), founded to manage the delivery of the improvements, wants the brand new venue to be of “incredible architectural design which will become renowned with Edinburgh the world over”.
The new bandstand will be called the Ross Pavilion and the regeneration of the wider West Princes Street Gardens, described as a “golden opportunity for Edinburgh” will help to draw residents into the city centre as well as raise the city’s profile, nationally and globally.
Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford has pledged £5 million towards the project, which is expected to cost up to £25m and open by 2020.
Local businesses and promoters of the Capital believe bringing such a significant project to life in the heart of Edinburgh’s green space will help to boost the city’s reputation as a leader in the culture and arts world.
John Donnelly, chief executive at Marketing Edinburgh said: “The positive impact of the regeneration is going to be momentous for Edinburgh’s West End. There will obviously be a substantial rise in footfall, from both visitors and locals.
“These people all need places to eat, stay and drink. Crucially it also strengthens the opportunity for the West End to really promote itself as the leading cultural hub for the city. The area is home to some of Edinburgh’s biggest and most respected arts venues including the Usher Hall, the Lyceum, the Traverse Theatre and Filmhouse. The Ross Bandstand is just a couple of minutes’ walk from them all and deserves a place alongside them.
“A new entertainment venue would also help shape the redevelopment and re-purposing of Princes Street, leading to new business opportunities, with more eateries and quality bars being able to make the most of the street’s spectacular views.”
The Castle silhouette has been used as the backdrop to international superstars from Tom Jones to Paul Weller, Jessie J to The Proclaimers. But the Capital has seriously struggled to create a versatile and permanent concert arena capable of pulling in bigger audiences and the associated custom that comes with the crowds.
“The impact is going to be significant for local business,” said Mr Donnelly. “You need only look towards the huge regeneration of Finnieston which has transformed into a thriving hotspot of bars, restaurants and independent shops since The Hydro opened.”
And the hopes are that the Ross Pavilion will have a similar impact to the west end of Edinburgh.
“It is estimated that music tourism generated £295m for Scotland in direct and indirect spend during 2016,” explained Mr Donnelly. “While Edinburgh can host amazing one-off gigs such as Hogmanay or in venues like Edinburgh Castle, BT Murrayfield and Meadowbank, when it comes to year-round venues, we are limited to the smaller spaces such as The Liquid Rooms and Cabaret Voltaire.
“This is a real opportunity for Edinburgh to raise its musical stakes and give the city a flagship music venue that is available 12 months a year.
“We know from the massive success and popularity of the Hogmanay concerts, with the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle this is one of the world’s most iconic concert locations.
“Having images of Paolo Nutini beamed across the world welcoming in 2017 raised Edinburgh’s global profile enormously. That gig sold out in record time. The demand is definitely there from a local and international audience.
“To have permanent facilities in place that can really transform the Ross Bandstand to a year-round venue will be a game-changer. Not only will it help attract big name acts with thousands of fans, equally important is the opportunity for a molecular set-up which can also effortlessly become a space for small scale community events.”
However, Gordon Henderson, from the federation of small businesses thinks this is an opportunity for shops, bars and restaurants in areas such as the Grassmarket to also take a slice of the city’s cultural success. “We could do with the light being shone elsewhere in the city,” he said.
“If you were to create a great walking route to the venue from the Grassmarket, an area which has been utterly ignored, it has huge potential for creating a positive impact. But I don’t think it needs to be linked to the West End. Princes Street and the gardens provide a fantastic draw in their own right.
“The Ross Bandstand being revamped couldn’t come soon enough, I don’t think anybody is going to be against it as long as it has been carefully considered.
“It must remain as a garden and continue to be aimed at residents as well as visitors. It’s used by hundreds of people on a daily basis and has to stay open and accessible.”
And director of Signature Pubs Ltd Nic Wood, who operates ten of the city’s most popular venues including Badger & Co, The Huxley, Basement Bar and The Queens Arms, warned against the squandering of an opportunity. “Any form of footfall driver is great for the West End and the city centre but we need to be mindful of the climate and provide protection from the elements should Scotland throw its worst at us.
“It also needs a plan and strategy of utilisation. What other city has such a beautiful yet under-utilised and historical garden at the centre? It could be used as a market, street food carnival, art and cultural space. Some of the initiatives that Essential Edinburgh have produced into St Andrew Square have been well received and well implemented.
“We know the talent is in Edinburgh and in Scotland in general but let’s not be parochial, we can highlight the world and promote a host of industries from this hub below Edinburgh Castle with the right support from Edinburgh council.
“This year we are seeing a huge rise in business rates, the economical fall out of Brexit with the costs of goods and services rising and the proposal of a ‘tourist tax’ – and we absolutely must make Edinburgh an attractive place to visit and provide a fantastic retail and hospitality platform for all consumers. The city must encourage business owners to invest and make it simpler to do so.”
Could the Ross Pavilion Embrace The ‘Hydro Effect’?
For anyone unfamiliar with Finnieston pre-SSE Hydro, imagine a fairly soulless strip, heavily concreted, described as the link between the city centre and Glasgow’s hip west end with very little else to boast of.
But in 2013 the £125m concert venue arrived in the area. Huge music, sporting and political events take place there with superstars such as Adele and Justin Bieber and their fans now attracted to Finnieston.
Following the Hydro’s first full year of operation, its owners claimed the venue had generated around £130m in economic spin-offs to the surrounding area following 93 events and 165 performances. With a capacity of 12,000 the venue draws some of the world’s biggest acts, and with it crowds with deep pockets.
And likened to the gentrification of Leith, Finnieston has reaped the benefits.
“The Hydro Effect” has encouraged businesses to flock to the area creating a mix of pop-up bars, eclectic restaurants and artistic outlets which have transformed the area into an entertainment mecca.
Could a similar influx of entertainment seekers benefit the centre of Edinburgh?