The man at the helm of an £850m development said the project would revitalise the city centre, likening its impact to the Pompidou Centre and the Shard.
The Edinburgh St James project, which will transform an unloved shopping mall and derelict office block into a upmarket complex of shops, luxury apartments, hotels and leisure space, goes before the city’s planning committee on June 24.
And ahead of plans being voted on by councillors, Martin Perry, development director at TH Henderson Real Estate, said he believed the project would change the way people used the city centre, linking up areas divided by busy roads and poorly-planned buildings.
Unveiling the materials that will be used in construction, Mr Perry revealed that 30 quarries were checked to see if they could supply the square mile of carefully selected limestone cladding that will help the modern building blend in with its historic surroundings.
The stainless steel Rimex material that will make up the distinctive “ribbon” effect wrapping a five-star hotel at the centre of the development was also revealed, giving the building the same reflective sheen as the Lloyds Building and the Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
Mr Perry said: “The thing about the St James Centre has been that it’s a massive block to the movement of people, because you basically can only go around it. There’s no route through, which there was in the original Georgian street plan. We want to open this area up again.
“Opening up this space will push people into other parts of the city centre. The whole idea is to create a circuit, picking up Multrees Walk, Princes Street, M&S and Primark. The city shopping circuit is enhanced by having this leg working and joining these things properly.”
Eight new shops will be created fronting on to Leith Street, including two large underground units recently added to plans. Mr Perry said: “One side of this street was destroyed in the 1970s when the St James Centre was built. We’re trying to rebuild the street, and put as many frontages and as much activity on to it so it actually has life and functions.”
The development boss hit back at critics of the bold ribbon hotel design, saying that a distinctive modern addition to the skyline could help market Edinburgh overseas as new air links help to attract international visitors and business investment.
Mr Perry said: “Any building that you do, at this location, on those axes, trying to achieve some kind of landmark form, is going to attract controversy.
“The Pompidou Centre, the Shard, the Gherkin – these buildings are hugely controversial when they’re built, but they add so much to their cities. It should be difficult to build a modern building in Edinburgh. It’s an architectural jewel.”
City economy leader Councillor Frank Ross welcomed progress on the development, saying: “It is extremely encouraging to see this key site moving forward. During construction alone it will create 5000 jobs and a further 3000 jobs on a permanent basis. This is fantastic news for Edinburgh’s economy and shoppers will be delighted to hear that the development will push Edinburgh up to seventh place in the UK retail rankings.”