Exclusive look at development at Cowgate fire site

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THIS exclusive video offers the first glimpse of the new £35 million development that has risen from the ashes of the Old Town fire more than a decade ago.

Connecting the festival-friendly districts of Cowgate, Chambers Street and South Bridge it is thought the new stone walkways will prove an August hit with Fringe revellers and breathe life into a gap site that has lain dormant since December 2002.

The view from the ninth floor looking up Blair Street. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

The view from the ninth floor looking up Blair Street. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

• Old Town Fire video: How it has changed in the years since the blaze.

A glazed bridge between upper floors of the 259-bed Ibis Hotel provides a new aerial perspective of Blair Street, that can be seen from within the complex, or the alfresco courtyards linking the three streets.

While cash registers are now ringing at Ibis, Costa Coffee and Sainsbury’s, two ground-level units on the Cowgate are still to be let but it is understood fitness club owners and a dental firm have been in talks with developer Jansons Property.

An unfurnished shell for the La Belle Angele nightclub, which perished in the 2002 fire, has been delivered to founder Hafid Mahboub, but despite being granted an alcohol licence in March last year, it is not yet known when the venue is set to launch.

The white-tiled backdrop from the GRV building in Guthrie Street acts as a feature wall for the outdoor courtyards and walkways – a reminder of the streetscape that once surrounded the development.

Perched in the lower courtyard, a huge steel sculpture – modelled on the awnings of the former Gilded Balloon venue – also harks back to Cowgate’s past.

The materials were sourced from Leith with the design reinterpreting the arches on the former comedy venue. The red hue of the Corten metal is a nod to the Crags of Arthur’s Seat.

A plaque dedicated to the late economic convenor Councillor Tom Buchanan – who played a key early role in the development – has been created but a memorial site is yet to be determined.

Speaking to the News, Andy Jansons, managing director of Jansons Property, said he was proud of what had been achieved on the Cowgate site.

He said: “I think the development looks all at peace with the rest of the street.

“It has worked quite well because if you go back through the planning process there were lots of different opinions that were expressed – some of them quite extreme – and from our point of view it was hard to navigate through that and come up with something that we felt would fit in well on the site and work commercially.”

Mr Jansons said designers had paid heed to advice from Unesco World Heritage officers but had been headstrong in keeping to the planning brief outlined by Edinburgh City Council.

He said talks had been held with city chiefs about revamping Blair Street, which faces the Cowgate entrance to the complex.

“We have had conversations with the council about Blair Street and about how it might be improved and made to look better and bring up the ambience of the whole area,” he said.

“The glassed link at the hotel means you can see straight up Blair Street which works well in design terms.

“If I could pick any part of the scheme that I am especially proud of I think that would be one of them.

“There’s an open-air hole at the bottom of that walkway which is almost like a window to Blair Street which is also quite nice.”

Mr Jansons said 92 per cent of the development had been pre-let to retailers and a launch party next Friday was an opportunity to attract more.

It is thought 200 permanent jobs will be supported by the development.

Mr Jansons said: “We are very grateful to Edinburgh council and to the local community for all the active support there has been for our development, with support beyond the planning consent particularly important.

“We needed a road closure to ensure construction wasn’t delayed and the council could not have been more helpful.

“Edinburgh is a great place to invest and a great place to do business.

It is understood the Ibis hotel enjoyed an occupancy rate of 91 per cent during the Calcutta Cup weekend staged at Murrayfield.

Cllr Frank Ross, economic development convener, said: “When you walk past the development which is over 90 per cent let, you can see it is buzzing and first signs are the hotel is doing well, too.

“It is great news for Edinburgh that this historic area at the heart of the city is now transformed and creating hundreds of new jobs in the retail, hotel and leisure sectors.”

Stone plaque naming honour for Alexander

A HUGE stone plaque which greets visitors to SoCo’s Cowgate entrance reveals the new name for the complex – the Alexander Building.

It commemorates the 18-year-old son of SoCo developer Andy Jansons, who died last July from a rare heart complication.

Alexander, pictured, suffered food poisoning after attending a music festival in Croatia.

He had been convalescing at home in Buckinghamshire when his symptoms grew more flu-like.

Having seemingly recovered, the teenager collapsed from a heart attack a short time later and died.

He was diagnosed with myocarditis – an inflammatory condition affecting the heart.

A foundation has sprung up in his honour.

Andy was off work mourning his loss when colleagues at Jansons Property decided it would be a fitting tribute to name the SoCo development after Alexander.

The managing director of Jansons Property said although it had been a “very painful time” he was immensely touched by the gesture.

He said: “This – the naming – was down to the kindness of my team who suggested it and commissioned it in my absence.

“I don’t want to look at it as a memorial, I want to look back on it as a reason to come back up to Edinburgh and look at a building that we are proud of.”

He added: “It’s been a great job and I would like to look back on it with happy memories really.”