Horseback tours of the Grassmarket and Harry Potter-themed trails are among ideas put forward by developers eager to snap up a huge 1.2-acre site in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
The Evening News understands proposals for the land on King’s Stables Road include installing a small stable in a nod to the area’s historic use as both a horse market and jousting arena – allowing horseback tours of the Grassmarket and Princes Street Gardens.
A literary trail touching on Harry Potter and Ian Rankin’s Rebus series is also being mooted, as well as a large indoor arts and food market open seven days a week.
The ambitious plans – being advanced by one of the developers bidding for the council-owned land – are part of efforts to revamp the forgotten corner of the city centre and transform derelict offices and storage premises into an arts hub and “mixed-use” retail space.
The plans which also include a “designer hotel” are set to go before council chiefs later this month alongside proposals from other bidders eager to build on the land.
The 5300sq m site – which links the Grassmarket and Exchange business districts – was put up for sale by the council last year, sparking hopes it would become a landmark development in an area plagued by falling footfall.
City chiefs anticipated a “significant amount of interest”, and it is understood several developers are currently vying to snap up the plot.
But a source close to the process said the developers behind the stables, literary tour and arts market were the only ones to factor in the creative sector and consult with local businesses.
He said: “This bid was in the top tier of bids that were all considered roughly equal. They have also consulted the Grassmarket Business Improvement District (BID) – the only developers to do so.
“Other offers under consideration include student flats, budget hotels and even the land being bought for investment and not developed immediately. None of this fits the original criteria given. At best now, some of the bids may have agreed to tag on things to make their offer more palatable.”
In 2013, King’s Stables Road was identified as one of 12 “priority” development sites seen as crucial to the Capital’s economic future. And despite many of the buildings now lying empty, the site has a rich history, with maps from as far back as 1852 indicating it was once the location of a slaughterhouse.
During the reign of King James IV, the royal horses were kept at the base of Castle Rock and jousting tournaments were held on the road. Later, it was used as a horse and cattle market.
Georgia Artus, project manager of the Grassmarket BID, said the group was “heartened” to see the developer behind the scheme harbouring similar goals to the BID. She said: “A mixed use approach for King’s Stables Road, with room for small businesses as well as accommodation, would give Edinburgh residents and tourists even more reasons to visit the Grassmarket, a historic fairy-tale backdrop which has for many years been the city’s creative quarter.
“For years we’ve been hosting festivals and markets and been home to artisan craft workers, galleries and quirky independent shops – and developing King’s Stables Road can be a positive step forward.
“Having a vibrant use for King’s Stables Road would create a fantastic link between the Grassmarket, the West End and Princes Street Gardens. Activating this area would help continue our work to improve safety, cleanliness and the circulation of footfall in the area.”