People want to come and work, shop and eat in places that are thriving. Places that feel good about themselves. Places that are ready to embrace change, move on, develop and create a genuine feel good factor.
The Grassmarket is all those things. There is a growing buzz about the area these days and that is something that is only going to increase in the months and years ahead.
“Oh, there’s the Castle up there”, visitors often gasp when they look up and catch the striking views. That didn’t happen so much before the council invested in the recent “public realm” improvements, people tended to rush through and not notice. Now they are far more likely to take their time and enjoy the magnificent views – and everything else this special area has to offer.
The awarding of Business Improvement District (BID) status will build on those changes. It will mean substantial extra investment – and the results should give visitors even more reason to hang around here.
Some visitors might think of the Grassmarket area first and foremost as one of the places that most stag and hen parties end up during their time in Edinburgh. It has always been a lively place and that is part of its appeal.
One thing that we want to do through the BID is to tell – or remind – them that this historic area has so much more to offer. This is a culturally diverse, interesting place. It’s not sanitised. There is an edgy appeal that you see in some parts of London. I think Leith has it too.
There are a lot of the independent shops here that grew out of craft fairs, so there is a strong creative element.
We can make a significant “place-making” contribution to Edinburgh’s identity as a world heritage city.
BID status means we in the Grassmarket are now empowered to manage our own local area and spend all the money that we raise here. That throws up lots of opportunities.
Our large public space in the Grassmarket is currently under-used. The space could be adopted by the BID and used to hold events and markets. Hosting the jazz festival has been a great success and we want to do more things like that.
Managing this space will be key to the success of our Greater Grassmarket BID.
As well as a levy on local businesses, the BID provides a mechanism for attracting – potentially quite staggering – additional external funding for projects and services that otherwise would be unlikely to happen. The levy is mandatory for all eligible businesses in the BID area. Everybody benefits, therefore everybody pays. While not all traders have voted in favour of the proposals, we would urge them to come together and consider joining the BID board to ensure their voices are heard.
Among the extra services and projects planned are collaborative marketing campaigns with VisitScotland. We will also explore the possibility of investing in signage, website and app technology which individual businesses may find too expensive to fund by themselves. That will help customers find our businesses more easily.
There are also cost saving opportunities for bulk buying of utilities and trade waste recycling and removal, which could not be achieved without the collective strength of the BID.
After the tram work is completed, there are plans to re-animate the city centre and the Grassmarket will play its part. It is a unique area that is ready to shine.
• Fawns Reid is chairperson of the Greater Grassmarket BID steering group.