A HISTORIC building in the Royal Mile was subject to an offer from the Church of Scientology
Lothian Chambers, which currently houses the registrars office and is a favourite wedding venue, was subject to an offer from the Church of Scientology however, a bid was accepted to make the building a new future as a centre of French culture.
The building is to be leased by the council to the French consulate and will be renamed House of France and will include a 100-seat auditorium for theatre, music and dance.
It is understood the council also received approaches about the building from retail and casino operators.
The consulate, which has been based in Randolph Crescent at the West End for the past 70 years, has been looking for new premises for some time and plans to use the B-listed Chambers building to expand its activities.
As well as the auditorium, the French plan a 20,000-book and multimedia library, offering a variety of lectures, reading groups and youth activities; an art gallery and a Scotland Centre for Photography; a French and European language school; an information and support centre for French and European citizens; and an outsourced café offering refreshments and light catering.
They say they will also continue to rent out space for receptions, weddings and civic occasions.
French Consul General Emmanuel Cocher said: “True to the Auld Alliance as well as our European bonds, France wants to invest in Edinburgh and Scotland.
“The Lothian Chambers are set to house an enhanced programme of international and Scottish cultural activities, relevant to all audiences which bring people together.
“We are conscious of taking over a central element of the civic heritage in the capital of Scotland and, in doing so, we commit ourselves to nurturing the spirit of creation and Enlightenment and cross-cultural exchanges that have made Edinburgh the ‘world art beacon’ it is known as internationally.”
The move, expected to take place later this year, ties in with the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, as well as the French Consulate in Edinburgh.
The lease - which will save the council £173,000 a year in running costs - is part of a wider plan to rationalise the use of public property.
City council economy convener Councillor Gavin Barrie said: “If we are able to maximise the use of these buildings, relocate staff and services efficiently and make considerable savings on running costs; it makes absolute sense to do so.
“If taken forward, the French Embassy’s proposals would give the Lothian Chambers a new lease of life and provide residents and visitors with fantastic opportunities to enjoy public access to the property.”
COUNCIL offices in the High Street will be turned into high-class serviced apartments under another lease deal to rationalise the local authority’s buildings.
Award-winning developers Chris Stewart Group will refurbish the block at 329 High Street, currently occupied by a variety of council departments, and will have the option to buy - but only once the project is completed.
It is next door to Advocate’s Close, where the firm carried out a £45 million development including a 208-bedroom hotel, 50 serviced apartments, offices and a bistro. The project, involving nine listed buildings covering 11 storeys between the Royal Mile and Market Street, was named Britain’s best development in 2015.
The council said staff from 329 High Street will be relocated to other council buildings nearby.