Ambitious proposals to transform a historic city landmark into a luxury four-star hotel complex have been unveiled.
The India Buildings at the top of Victoria Street – which include the former registry office that hosted Scotland’s first ever same-sex civil partnership – are set to be given a new lease of life as part of a £40 million development.
And now residents are being given the chance to view early blueprints detailing the scheme for the first time at a public exhibition tomorrow.
The drawings show the neighbouring C-listed tenement block at 11-15 Victoria Street and the B-listed Cowgatehead Church included in the overall design, as well as adjoining land in the Cowgate. Today developers insisted the project would “gentrify” and “regenerate” an area of the city that has been allowed to fall into disrepair, as well as returning the A-listed India Buildings back to their former glory. And they argued the hotel complex would bring an additional £5.3m in visitor spending to the city every year – as well as creating 649 full-time jobs when the hotel is up and running.
As well as the 240-room hotel, the site would include bars, restaurants, cafes and retail and commercial spaces, with a spacious public area centred around the India Buildings’ iconic entrance foyer.
Most of the 19th century building’s stunning original features – which include viewing galleries and a three-tier domed rotunda – would be retained, as well as its facade facing on to Victoria Street. The hotel plans would see the structure brought into full-time use for the first time in more than ten years.
All three buildings involved in the project would be linked with a new structure built on a current gap site on Cowgatehead, with the historic closes that link Victoria Street and the Cowgate opened up for public use. A new square and pavilion would also be built.
The plans have been lodged by developers Jansons Property, the company behind the £35 million SoCo development that regenerated part of the Old Town following 2002’s devastating fire.
It is hoped work on the scheme could begin as early as next year, with the entire complex set to be completed 18 months from then. A planning application will go before city chiefs at the end of the summer.
Andy Jansons, managing director of Jansons Property, said the proposal would bring “better buying power into the area” as wealthy tourists flock to stay in one of the city’s most picturesque streets.
He revealed developers had entered into talks with Leonardo Hotels to discuss operating the venue, but admitted transforming the derelict buildings would be “challenging”.
Yesterday, the News was given exclusive access to the buildings and found years of neglect had left some rooms with peeling plaster, moss-covered floors and collapsed ceilings.
Mr Jansons said: “We had our challenges at SoCo as well. You’ve got a barren site but [one that’s] partly refurbished as well, and it’s about actually melding the two together in a positive way that brings back the old buildings, but also achieves the accommodation for a hotel. Here, with a four-star hotel, that’s a big operation. You need a certain size of floor space just to make it viable.
“So we’re lucky that we have the land at the back where we can actually get quite a lot of the hotel bedrooms and function space, whilst refurbishing the India Buildings at the front and bringing them back to their historic levels and bringing people in and using the space.”
He added: “It’s about bringing a better buying power into the area. It’s quite student-orientated, but this will bring a bit of quality into it.”
Susannah Macneill, associate director with architects Ica, who are designing the complex, insisted it was about bringing the historic buildings “back to life”. She said: “It’s an A-listed building with beautiful features that’s on the ‘at risk’ register, and it’s starting to degrade having been empty for so long.
“So having a hotel in this building and bringing people into these spaces I think is hugely valuable culturally, as well as physically. And I also think it will bring a lot more people to this part of the city and down on to Cowgate and into the Grassmarket – in terms of economics I think that’s got to be a great benefit. The quality of hotel that’s coming in is four-star. It will bring a lot more people down the street – and four-star hotel clients have a good spending quality. This will have much more of a residential feel than a hotel would usually have. It’s really important for all of us just to bring [the building] back to use.”
• Tomorrow’s exhibition detailing the plans will be held at the India Buildings from 10am-4pm.