Whiteburn Projects Ltd today confirmed they have agreed terms to purchase the historic Cowgate/South Bridge fire site from the eight current owners.
The former tenement site, previously home to a host of retail outlets, offices, pubs and venues, including the Gilded Balloon, Bridge Jazz Bar, La Belle Angele nightclub, Leisureland amusement arcade, the Edinburgh Acting School and Edinburgh University School of Informatics, was destroyed by a fire three years ago in December 2002. Following demolition and making safe of the adjoining buildings, organised by the City of Edinburgh Council, the site has lain vacant. Tireless endeavours have since ensued by leading local architect Malcolm Fraser, assisted by Hardies Quantity Surveyors, and then latterly McGregor Chartered Surveyors, to coordinate the interests of the eight joint owners.
Invitations were issued to potential development partners to reconstruct the former configuration of retail, office and licensed premises for the joint owners and carry out a new development in the airspace formerly occupied by Edinburgh University on the upper floors.
However Whiteburn went a step further and presented an unconditional offer to buy out the interests of all but one of the owners (whose former nightclub will be reinstated), to enable a full redevelopment of the site by one party, well experienced in dealing with difficult inner city sites.
John Shepherd, Chief Executive of Whiteburn, award winning developers of The Tun office building and the adjacent Clock Tower on Holyrood Road, said “We are very pleased to have reached this agreement on the purchase of such an important site in the heart of the Old Town and look forward to the challenge of putting back a very significant building. However, there’s much work still to be done to finalise the conveyancing exercise – many signatures required on many documents! It’s certainly the most complex transaction we’ve ever undertaken, involving the separation of the ownerships between the destroyed and remaining parts of the tenement and I’m grateful to the joint owners for their patience whilst our respective legal teams have delved into the title complexities.”
Looking forward, Whiteburn, with Allan Murray Architects, are currently examining at a number of configurations and have already talked to a variety of potential end users on what could be a very exciting mixed use development. These include the Edinburgh International Film Festival (for whom unfortunately this opportunity has probably arisen too early), hotel operators, conference organisers and various licensed occupiers.
Alternatively, the Scottish Court Service may also have a requirement for some new courts in this area and residential uses could also make up the balance.
Mr Shepherd went onto say that, “We look forward in due course to securing the support of the City planning department and relevant statutory bodies in helping us re-develop this complex site. We’ll also be listening to the various interest and lobbying groups; relishing this opportunity to create a 21st century building here to enhance and link South Bridge and the Cowgate. It’s obviously a site that has generated enormous public interest since the sad demise of the former buildings and we’ll want to leave no stone unturned in ensuring we’ve reached the right solution.”