Warning Forest site may become ‘another Odeon’

Forest Cafe members are hoping to stay put
Forest Cafe members are hoping to stay put
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CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Edinburgh’s Forest Cafe have warned the building could become “another Odeon” if they are forced to leave and the property is left vacant.

The arts collective, which has been based in the Bristo Place premises since 2003, wants to carry on renting the venue and is trying to raise enough money to buy it.

But PricewaterhouseCooper, administrators for Edinburgh University Settlement, which owns the property, has ruled the Forest Cafe must close by the end of the month.

A planning application for the premises from the Mosque Kitchen Ltd was rejected by the city council last month and an expected sale of all the EUS properties, including the Forest Cafe, has fallen through within the last ten days.

The Forest campaigners hoped that meant they could renew their lease beyond the August 31 termination date, but PwC said they still had to get out.

Ryan Van Winkle, reader-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library and a long-term Forest volunteer, said he feared if the building was left unoccupied it could quickly deteriorate like the former Odeon cinema in Newington which has lain empty for seven years.

He said: “I was shocked to hear PwC say they were unwilling to enter negotiations about the Forest remaining in Bristo Place, especially as we have been responsible tenants.

“I would have thought receiving rent from a sitting tenant would serve the creditors’ interests more than having no income from a vacant building and inheriting all the maintenance costs. We know the building needs constant maintenance and care to keep it from becoming a derelict shell akin to the old Odeon on South Clerk Street.”

The Forest Cafe is currently busy as a Fringe venue, but it also operates throughout the year with an art gallery, theatre spaces, a darkroom, a publishing house, a swap shop, a record label, a hairdresser and a thriving vegetarian café.

Mr Van Winkle said: “None of us wants to leave Bristo Place as it is such a versatile building which we’ve been able to use to its fullest potential as an artistic hub. To think that it will become yet another of Edinburgh’s historic buildings that is vacant and unused is frustrating and upsetting.”

PwC’s Bruce Cartwright, who is handling the EUS properties, said it was disappointing the expected sale had fallen through. But he said there had been other interest in Bristo Place and he expected it to be re-advertised.

He said he could not continue to rent the premises because he did not know how soon it might be sold. He said: “Our intention is to sell it with vacant possession. I can’t commit to anything because I could be doing a quick sale.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com