THE BOSS of Grand Theft Auto games firm Rockstar North is to buy Edinburgh’s St Stephen’s Church to save it for the community.
Leslie Benzies, known as the the Godfather of Gaming, is poised to snap up the A-listed Stockbridge building half a mile from his home – in a deal thought to be well in excess of £500,000.
A spokesman for the 43-year-old, who is president of Rockstar North, described it as “an entirely philanthrophic purchase” to preserve St Stephen’s with new investment and retain it for community use.
Philip Johnston said Mr Benzies had lived in Stockbridge for more than a decade and recognised the building’s “importance to the community”.
The deal would preserve St Stephen’s “for years to come” and “ensure the long-term viability of the property as a community centre that benefits all”.
A charitable trust has been founded to manage the community centre and a board of trustees will include representatives from the local community
Mr Johnston added: “Stockbridge is a busy residential area with a relatively small number of community venues.
“The preservation of St Stephen’s church as a community centre meets a pressing need as well as protecting an important historical building.
“We are delighted that we can help bring the church back to its former glory securing its future whilst providing a renovated local and performing arts centre that will benefit the wider community.” Designed by “Athens of the North” architect William Henry Playfair, St Stephen’s Church has been hailed as one of the most important Georgian buildings in the New Town.
The building, which includes a 160ft tower, the longest clock pendulum in Europe and a terrace boasting spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife, is divided into three levels, including an 800-capacity venue suitable for live music, dance and theatre. It has been effectively been run as a local community centre for the past two decades, but its use has declined in recent years.
It is thought the vow to retain the building for community use will cheer campaign group St Stephen’s Playfair Trust which previously unveiled plans for a long-term refurbishment and restoration of the building.
In February, it emerged a mystery arts impresario was interested in purchasing the building and trumped a bid by St Stephen’s Playfair Trust to purchase the building.
His undisclosed offer won through after more than 50 potential buyers expressed an interest in the building – some of whom were keen to turn it into private flats or a bar- restaurant complex.
Dating back to the 1820s, the church has recently been a popular Fringe festival venue in the summer but Mr Benzies’ team has not revealed whether it will be used for any performances this year.
Mr Johnston, said: “My client looks forward to completing the sale imminently to secure the plans for the church’s ongoing use.
“We will engage with the community as the plans progress and look forward to welcoming local residents and groups back to the centre in the very near future.”