THE massive £1 billion St James Quarter redevelopment is set to bring trams-style disruption to a key part of the Capital, the next head of Edinburgh’s city-centre business organisation has warned.
But Roddy Smith, who will take over as chief executive of Essential Edinburgh in March, said the experience of the long-running trams project should mean the city can cope better this time.
Mr Smith, currently head of Cricket Scotland, said latest footfall figures showed the city centre was recovering well from the impact of the tram works which saw prolonged road closures – but he acknowledged challenges ahead.
“The city centre is undoubtedly on the way up,” he said. “But one of the key things will be the development of the new St James Quarter, which will create a lot of the same issues as the trams did.
“But having gone through the trams experience, hopefully we will be in a better place to work around it and minimise the problems.
“The task will be good communication, good marketing and helping people to realise the end product is something worth waiting for.”
The current St James Centre is to be demolished to make way for 750,000 sq ft of retail space, two hotels, 250 homes and a boutique cinema, as well as new public spaces providing access through the site connecting Princes Street to Leith Walk.
The current St James Centre is due to close in September next year, with construction work set to start soon afterwards and the new shopping mecca scheduled to open in early 2020.
Mr Smith said the St James Quarter was one of the big issues he expected to face when he takes over the reins of Essential Edinburgh – which represents 600 city-centre businesses – from current chief executive Andy Neal.
He said: “It’s a huge redevelopment that will have a huge impact on the city centre and our members in the East End.”
The other issue he highlighted was George Street, where the part-pedestrianisation of the street during the Festival has been extended.
Mr Smith said: “We will have to look at the changes made there and work with our partners to assess its success or otherwise.”
Edinburgh-born Mr Smith, 46, said he was looking forward to getting started in the new job.
He said: “This is a wonderful opportunity and I will work tirelessly to carry forward the excellent work by Andy Neal, the board and the professional staff of Essential Edinburgh.”
Board chairman Denzil Skinner said Mr Smith had been the “standout” candidate in a rigorous selection process and praised his “real grasp of the issues facing the city centre”.
Mr Smith has an MA in leisure policy and practice from Heriot-Watt University and worked for ten years at national sport agency Sportscotland before becoming chief executive of Cricket Scotland in 2004.
He played rugby and cricket to a high club level in Scotland, and was capped at all levels for his country at cricket. He is married with two daughters and lives in the Capital.