Business leaders want empty Edinburgh shops to become temporary Fringe venues this year

Business leaders have called for empty shops in Edinburgh city centre to be turned into Fringe venues as part of a bid to bring the event back this year.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 11:59 pm
The closure of the iconic Jenners department store was announced in January. Picture: Greg Macvean

Empty department stores on Princes Street and George Street could get a new lease as part of efforts to rethink how the city’s festivals are staged in August.

The idea, put forward by city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, raises the prospect of live music, theatre, cabaret and comedy being staged at the city’s Jenners, Debenhams and Topshop buildings on Princes Street if the idea is backed by event organisers, landlords and the city council.

It is also hoped that new spaces for performances will be created at the St James development, which is due to open its doors for the first time in June.

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Essential Edinburgh has also suggested parts of George Street are closed to traffic to help accommodate pop-up venues, and allow bars and restaurants to expand pavement cafe areas.

Chief executive Roddy Smith said: “Edinburgh desperately needs a festival programme in whatever hybrid form it can use to make it happen.

“We cannot have another summer without the festivals. It would have a devastating effect on the city centre, particularly hospitality and retail businesses.

“By working proactively with the council, festival operators and private business we can bring activity back in the summer. It’s vital for the economic good of the city.

The Debenhams store on Princes Street is set to be redeveloped into a hotel.

“There is potential to utilise any empty shop units for pop-up activity depending on the restrictions for social distancing.

"Why couldn’t you turn the bottom floor of a department store into a venue for a couple of hundred people?

"If we have available space with large footprints that’s not being used let's be creative to support everyone to get the city back on its feet. It’s vital we get people to come back to the city centre.

“Outdoor spaces and how to use them imaginatively are key. George Street could be a fantastic hub of activity and allow the city centre to be vibrant all summer in a Covid-secure manner.

"Another thing that could make a huge difference is the St James development, which will have seven outdoor spaces. They will be prime spots.

"What we need is for the city council to be imaginative, proactive and supportive. They are going to have to be.”Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce Liz Mcareavey said: “The festivals are hugely important to the economy of Edinburgh – it is essential that they have some physical presence this year.

“We really do need to be looking at ways to make this happen, not finding reasons for our festivals not to go ahead.

"Edinburgh is the home of festivals and we must all come together to protect this valuable asset that puts Edinburgh on the world stage every summer.”

Garry Clark, development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The cancellation of the festivals last year was inevitable but nevertheless a bitter blow to the city and its businesses.

"It is extremely important that every effort is made to ensure that these take place in some form this year. Edinburgh’s businesses have suffered long enough and a festival season to look forward to would be a huge boost in dark times.”

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