Marketing chief hails scheme for Royal High hotel

Edinburgh Marketing chief executive John Donnelly. Picture: Greg Macvean

Edinburgh Marketing chief executive John Donnelly. Picture: Greg Macvean

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THE man in charge of promoting the Capital has given his backing to two controversial developments lined up for the city.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said he supported plans for the Royal High School to be turned into a five-star hotel and the already approved St James Centre redevelopment, which also features a luxury hotel.

Both projects have faced stinging criticism from heritage watchdogs, with suggestions made that the Capital could lose its World Heritage status as a result.

Mr Donnelly said the city had to develop and consider how it was seen internationally, however he stopped short of commenting on the designs for the proposals.

He said: “If Edinburgh wants to be premium city, it has to behave like one.”

In an interview with the website Daily Business, he said the Capital needed more five-star hotels, such as the one 
global chain Rosewood has lined up for the Royal High School.

He said: “World Heritage status is hugely important to the city. However, the city has to develop and grow.

“We do a lot of work with the World Heritage people, and they get it. It’s about developments which are empathetic. We are not Tokyo – Edinburgh has to develop.

“We need them [five-star hotels] for conferences and tourists.

“The Chinese market in particular is growing in importance and when they think about Europe they think Starwood, Four Seasons. Edinburgh needs one of these.

“All the people I talk to say the high school should be a hotel, without doubt. It would add to the city market.”

Alternative plans have been drawn up for the iconic old building to become a new home for St Mary’s Music School. But Mr Donnelly said: “A music school will not add to Edinburgh’s attraction from an international point of view.”

The £850 million St James development has provoked criticism for the “ribbon” hotel – which will feature a swirling, copper-coloured “cupcake” rising from its roof.

The new centre would feature shops, restaurants, cafes and 250 flats alongside the new five-star hotel.

Mr Donnelly said: “I don’t think anyone would disagree that it [the current St James Centre] needs tearing down. From a marketing perspective, the new centre creates a new platform because Edinburgh doesn’t have a strong retail offering against the likes of Leeds or Glasgow.”

He said city leaders “shouldn’t underestimate how well regarded Edinburgh is worldwide”.

But he added: “All these new developments that are planned have to add to the city, not take anything away.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com