George Street becoming epicentre of Fringe - promoter

George Street transformed yesterday to host festival events. Picture: Toby Williams
George Street transformed yesterday to host festival events. Picture: Toby Williams
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A VETERAN Fringe promoter has vowed to make George Street the “epicentre” of the world’s biggest arts festival and reverse the drift of major venues out of the city centre.

Tommy Sheppard said he hoped to see a “gravitation” away from the “over-concentration” of venues in the south side of the city, around Edinburgh University’s main campus.

The man behind the revamped Assembly Rooms and the relocated Famous Spiegeltent vowed an expanded arena on George Street, which will feature three new performance stages, would help ensure the recent trend was reversed.

Sections of George Street will be partially closed to traffic this month, while the middle section will be closed completely for a “Spiegelterrace” area which will be open until 2am.

Mr Sheppard said the moves, which follow a controversial pilot last year, would ensure the Fringe was no longer “pushed out to the periphery” of the city in future years.

His call came despite a plea from a rival promoter, former Assembly Rooms boss William Burdett-Coutts, for an end to bickering and back-stabbing between venues, claiming a lot of goodwill had gone out of the festival in recent years. Mr Sheppard, who won the contract to take over Assembly Rooms shows last year, said: “For a decade the Fringe had drifted out of the city centre and become over-concentrated in a small area on the south side, around the university.

“Last year, with the re-opening of the Assembly Rooms that trend was arrested. Now, with other venues joining us, and the city’s commercial community getting involved, the drift is being reversed. George Street is becoming the heart of the Fringe.”

Some businesses had been opposed to the return of the Spiegelterrace, claiming trade had been badly affected last year

Mr Sheppard added: “There have been a lot of gripes over the years – I’ve been one of the gripers at times –from local residents and local businesses complaining that the festival doesn’t really benefit them.

“I would say to those business that it takes two to tango – if you get involved in this festival you will reap the benefits of it.

Mr Burdett-Coutts, speaking at Assembly Theatre’s launch, said: “The Fringe is without doubt the biggest and best showcase of the arts in the world. I’ve been very privileged to see it grow into this.

“What I don’t like and what has really annoyed me in recent years is the petty bickering which turns the Fringe into some kind of battleground – where venues battle venues.

“The Free Fringe is better than all the rest, one un-named comedian can become the centre of division and dissent and the classic story you read every year, (which is) ‘who is making the money?’.

“All of the participants in the Fringe should celebrate the brilliance of everyone’s achievement.”