First SoCo shops to open for Christmas

V The stores will be the first to open since the Cowgate blaze in 2002. Picture: Ian Rutherford

V The stores will be the first to open since the Cowgate blaze in 2002. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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A HUGE £35 million development rising from the ashes of the Old Town fire is set to launch two flagship stores in time for the Christmas rush.

The flagship Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee stores – built into the South Bridge aspect of the SoCo complex – will be the first retailers to open at the former gapsite following the blaze that devastated the historic district in 2002.

And it is understood concert venue La Belle Angele and the 259-bed Ibis hotel will be handed over for internal fittings by the first week of December raising hopes the entire half-acre complex will be completed by February – two months behind schedule.

Two retail units on Cowgate remain unfilled but developers believe these too will be occupied in time for the grand opening early next year.

A part of the regeneration project, a pedestrian link between the Cowgate, South Bridge and Chambers Street will connect the major thoroughfares for the first time.

Andy Jansons, managing director of Jansons Property – the firm behind the development – said: “It’s great to see the progress being made on site, with the development really starting to take shape ahead of the official opening early next year.

“This investment is hugely important for Edinburgh’s Old Town, providing new accommodation, retail and amenities to this part of the Capital, whilst finally bringing closure to this unfortunate episode in Edinburgh’s history.

“Jansons property is very proud to have played such a positive role in the regeneration of the Cowgate and South Bridge areas, which will make the area much more attractive and vibrant.”

It is thought the new addition to the heart of the Old Town will sustain more than 200 jobs.

Gordon Henderson, of Edinburgh’s Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed the opening but stressed the importance of independent retailers to South Bridge – thought to be the city’s first purpose-built shopping street and a vibrant commercial district in the 18th century.

He said: “As far as South Bridge is concerned it’s very good news that another arterial route to Edinburgh will be opened with construction work easing.

“However I would call on the council to look at the need for small businesses in Edinburgh as well as the big multiples. South Bridge is a unique street and there are not many built on a bridge.

“There are some great independent businesses there and I hope they manage to stay.”

Cllr Frank Ross, city economy convenor, hailed the Christmas opening as “great news”.

He added: “This historic area at the heart of the city will be transformed by the mixed use site, which will also create hundreds of new jobs in the retail, hotel and leisure 
sectors.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com