A MAJOR new Festival venue and outdoor bars and cafes would be created in the middle of George Street under ambitious new plans that could see the area closed off to traffic.
A Spiegeltent would be built in the middle of George Street in place of the existing parking bays under the proposals, which are designed to help the city centre fight back against the drift of Festival activity to the south side of the Capital.
The plans have been proposed by comedy promoter Tommy Sheppard, pictured, who will also run the new Fringe venue within the revamped Assembly Rooms when it is officially reopened this summer.
One option currently being discussed with city transport chiefs is to close the street off to through traffic and divert buses on to Queen Street or Princes Street instead
Mr Sheppard, who also runs The Stand comedy club, said: “It is an exciting idea and one that will help to put that part of the city back on the map, and help to relaunch the Assembly Rooms with a bang.”
Work has already started on the process, with city transport leader Gordon Mackenzie lodging a council motion asking for permission to remove around 30 parking bays from George Street for the month of August.
But further talks will need to take place in the coming months about the traffic changes that may be necessary, including relocation of parking bays and the diversion of general traffic and buses. It is understood the proposal hinges on Princes Street being reopened to buses following tram works.
Mr Sheppard said: “We’ve signed the contract to manage the Assembly Rooms during the Fringe and we are determined to make it the biggest and best venue in Edinburgh.
“We would like to create a hub in George Street when there’s a whole lot going on inside and outside, while linking with other people on the street to try to create a centre of gravity in that part of town.”
The traffic changes are likely to include a system for taxis to drop off passengers. The proposals – including the traffic shake-up – have been backed by business leaders. Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, said: “George Street is not really a through road anyway, it’s more about access to parking, so it will not be drastically different.
“There was no major Festival attraction in the New Town last year and it was obvious in the daytime and evenings so we are delighted that Assembly Rooms will be back and we’re positive about the idea of taking over the middle carriageway.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, believes the venue will benefit all businesses, despite the new outdoor bar and cafe space going into competition with existing businesses. He said: “There is plenty of business to go around.”
Cllr Mackenzie said about eight or nine of the 30 parking bays could be relocated on George Street, adding: “Against that, thousands of people will come over and that will offset the impact of less parking.”