John McLellan: Edinburgh needs a ‘Dome of its Own’

Murrayfield Racers celebrate winning the Capital Foods Scottish Cup for the fifth year in a row in 1991
Murrayfield Racers celebrate winning the Capital Foods Scottish Cup for the fifth year in a row in 1991
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The seemingly inevitable demise of the Edinburgh Capitals professional hockey side and the rebirth of the legendary Murrayfield Racers begs a simple question; what will the Racers do that the Capitals didn’t to make it a going concern?

Capitals’ former owner Scot Neil put his heart and soul into the club over the past 20 years, but survival in the ageing ice rink was a constant battle and the Racers will face exactly the same challenges.

In essence, the Capitals simply couldn’t grow the fan base to sustainable levels, watched by hundreds in antiquated facilities rather than the 3-4,000 who watch Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers or Belfast Giants every week in modern facilities.

While a new arena might not be the silver bullet for pro ice hockey, it’s certainly no help to be playing in a stadium which hasn’t changed much since the 1930s, and with pro teams in Dundee, Kirkcaldy and Glasgow there is no shortage of rivalries to be exploited by good marketing.

But 20 years after the Evening News launched its “Dome of our Own” campaign, the city is no nearer to boasting an up-to-date, large-scale, multi-purpose arena than it was then. It’s not even as if there have been false dawns because it has never been a priority for successive city administrations and is not mentioned in the draft economic strategy currently being kicked around the City Chambers.

It’s been years since the Edinburgh Rocks basketball side left Meadowbank for Braehead, and now the Glasgow Rocks are based at the Emirates Indoor Sports Arena in Dalmarnock. Meanwhile, the new Meadowbank sports hall will not be able to stage something like the famous 2006 Alex Arthur v Ricky Burns fight.

READ MORE: FAQs: The future of Edinburgh Capitals and Murrayfield Racers

For popular music, the odd retro act comes to the Usher Hall, like Bryan Ferry tonight and Echo & the Bunnymen next month, the occasional stadium tour stops off at Murrayfield like the Rolling Stones in June, but otherwise big shows mean a trek to Glasgow’s Hydro and the fun of its parking puzzle or awkward Exhibition Centre station.

By the end of June, the Hydro will have hosted Noel Gallagher, Manic Street Preachers, Nickelback, Bryan Adams, Alice Cooper and pals, and Katy Perry. The Usher Hall gets Australian Pink Floyd but the Hydro gets two nights of the real thing with Roger Waters.

Last year the Hydro and Armadillo’s operating company, Scottish Event Campus, recorded £3.4m profit on a turnover of £28.8m, but more to the point generated an estimated £414m for the Glasgow economy in hotels, restaurants, and shopping.

This is business upon which Edinburgh has been turning its back for years, content the Festivals and the EICC complement rather than compete with the West. There was a chance for public investment through the City Deal, but instead Edinburgh got the new Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert venue, which while very welcome is not a game-changer in international marketing terms.

In a city with a cultural reputation largely pinned to the Festivals, a new medium-scale classical music venue signals that Edinburgh is maintaining its position, not breaking the mould.

If the population projections are correct then the city’s population will reach 600,000 by 2040 and the Lothian council areas and South Fife will create a conurbation of well over a million, not only increasing the demand for work but expanding the market for domestic entertainment.

READ MORE: First look at Edinburgh’s new £45m concert hall

An arena was touted as part of a new Ingliston, where the mammoth Romanian performance of Faust was staged in the Lowland Hall during the 2009 Festival, and recognising the opportunity it’s now part of the Airport’s early thinking for its Crosswind project.

Between the ice rink, Scottish Rugby, The Royal Highland Society, the airport and possibly even RBS, surely there is enough brain power and resources to get something going. And maybe the council would like to join in too.

Why charges are needed to solve ERI parking crisis

My colleague Miles Briggs MSP has once again highlighted the appalling parking situation at the ERI which will worsen when the new Sick Kids opens this autumn. The answer, as argued here before, is another deck over the car parks behind the site and I understand NHS Lothian is not opposed. Construction cost would have to be recovered over time by a charge, but anything is better than having the sick and worried frantically circling in search of a space.

Old Town’s damaged streets need long-lasting repairs

After recent publicity caught up with the Old Town Community Council’s dirty dossier presented to the council by Conservative councillor Jo Mowat last December, the management of the Old Town has once again been put under the microscope.

But whether it is the solution or not, the Old Town business improvement district proposal designed to enhance the environment is hitting legal buffers. It’s noticeable that despite fears that tourism is swamping the area, the streets around the City Chambers are relatively quiet, but there is no hiding the urgent need for durable repairs to damage done to the setts by heavy traffic.