Rat Race Kicks Off Rejuvenation of Edinburgh’s Old Town Fire Site

Whiteburn Projects marked the completion of their purchase of Edinburgh’s historic Cowgate/South Bridge fire-site with the launch of an urban adventure race in the city.

The former tenement site – devastated by a massive blaze in 2002 – which will feature a variety of new uses such as a hotel, serviced apartments, art gallery, shops, restaurants and bars is set to become the lynch-pin of a new vibrant city district called SoCo.

The last chapter of this long-awaited deal, which follows 18 months of complex negotiations with the site’s eight owners, was celebrated with the launch of Edinburgh’s Rat Race Urban Adventure (July 15–16).

Almost 500 participants competed in a variety of disciplines such as kayaking and mountain-iking over a set circuit, which included abseiling down the SoCo site.

Whiteburn is in talks with a number of hotel operators to occupy the 12,000 sq m site, which lies in the heart of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site and Old Town.

A planning application is expected to be submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council later this year, with the development set to be completed within three years.

The South Bridge/Cowgate site was previously home to a host of retail outlets, offices, pubs and venues, including the Gilded Balloon comedy venue, Bridge Jazz Bar, La Belle Angele nightclub, Leisureland amusement arcade, the Edinburgh Acting School and University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics.

Following the blaze in December 2002, leading Edinburgh architect Malcolm Fraser, Hardies Quantity Surveyors and McGregor Chartered Surveyors moved to co-ordinate 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 the University of Edinburgh on the upper floors.

However, Whiteburn went a step further and pitched in with 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, said he was delighted the deal to buy the site had been completed.

“We are very pleased to have purchased this important site in the heart of the Old Town and look forward to the challenge of putting back a very significant building. It was 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 delved into the title complexities.”

“We have already taken many steps to secure the support of the City Planning Department and relevant statutory bodies in helping us redevelop this complex site and relish the 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.”

He added: “Our marketing is now fully underway and we have had strong interest from several leading hotel operators. We’re also keen, if we can, to establish a public venue such as a gallery, festival fringe spot, concert space or specialist cinema as part of the wider redevelopment. Having the Rat Race kick off their urban adventure on SoCo, I think was a great way to reinforce our commitment to urban rejuvenation on keys sites such as this in Scotland.”

Jonathan Sutton of storeys:ssp, Whiteburn’s development agents, said: “There’s no doubt SoCo presents a terrific opportunity to breathe new life into the area by fully exploiting the potential of one of Edinburgh’s key gap sites.”

Award-winning Edinburgh architect Allan Murray, who has been enlisted to draw up designs for the £40 million project, said: “Our vision seeks to assist in the regeneration not only of the South Bridge and the Cowgate, linking them together perhaps for the first time since the 19th century, but also feeding around the corner into Chambers Street, where Edinburgh City Council is planning significant streetscape improvements.”

He added: “Bringing together vibrant new uses that address both the South Bridge and the Cowgate levels, SoCo will redress some of the concerns that many of us have over the quality of environment. We look forward to creating a new piece of high quality architecture in this much neglected part of the Old Town.”

Notes to Editors

The former eight owners of the site are:

  • Luminar Dancing Limited
  • Georgina Codona
  • Cowgate Arts Limited
  • Mapprop Property Investment
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Hafid Mahboubi
  • Iain McKain
  • Unique Pub Properties

Please note the purchase contract with Hafid Mahboubi is subject to a reconstruction and forward sale agreement for a nightclub shell on the location of his former La Belle Angele nightclub, subject to planning and licensing.

Whiteburn Holdings Ltd, incorporating Whiteburn Projects Ltd, is a family-owned development company. It kick-started the Edinburgh pavement café revolution in the 1990’s with Café Rouge; created Scotland’s first genuine lofts at Leith Lofts and built the best commercial office building in Scotland and the UK (The Tun – winner of two BCO Awards in 2003).

Issued by Weber Shandwick on behalf of Whiteburn.

For further information contact Sam Halstead

T: 0131 556 6649 or M: 07770 886 937.