Debenhams plan is not a blueprint for saving Princes Street - Kevin Buckle
Good news this week that the redevelopment of the former Debenhams building was approved by Edinburgh Council – but it’s bad news that they think this is in some way indicative of the way forward for Princes Street.
This is indeed an imaginative way to repurpose the building though I’m not sure they will find it easy to fulfil their promise of an interesting arcade of shops in the new link between Princes Street and Rose Street.
What it is not is any kind of blueprint for all the other empty buildings on Princes Street.
Princes Street has been hit by a triple whammy and not all of the consequences were unpredictable. It has been clear for a long time now that the high street was going to need to change from being simply a retail environment and certainly there were some that did not see how there could be a successful St James Quarter without harming the rest of the city centre.
Others, however, were just blindly optimistic that the new development would bring a huge increase in shoppers to Edinburgh and those shoppers would then also shop in the rest of the city centre.
All those empty shops caused by businesses leaving for the St James Quarter would soon fill up again and Edinburgh would overtake Glasgow as the shopping capital of Scotland!
As time went on I did come across more people thinking that this was a disaster waiting to happen – and that was before being hit by the pandemic which of course can now be blamed for all the woes when actually it has done no more than aggravate the situation.
One thing the pandemic has surely taught us is that waiting to see what happens rather than taking decisive action can have terrible and avoidable consequences.
At the moment those with the power to instigate change seem happy to wait for the new quarter to open and see if people do then also wander down the now half-derelict nearby streets.
I think we know now how that is going to turn out, even once the Johnnie Walker Centre is ope,n and yet from all I have heard if people do in fact make it no further than Multrees Walk in any numbers there is no plan.
At least if an entire building belongs to one owner a view can be taken about the value of the street level premises if those above make a reasonable return.
Just recently Rough Trade New York announced to much surprise that they were relocating to the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan surely way out of their price range.
However, an ice cream vendor in the same block told the New York Times he had been given a great deal to be there even before Covid hit as the owners wanted to have storefronts that were “local and more artisanal” and could make their money from the space above.
In this maybe the repurposed Debenhams building may lead the way after all.