£20m rebirth for the Cowgate
A MULTI-MILLION pound deal to transform the Cowgate fire site three years after it was destroyed has been clinched.
A hotel, offices, shops, bars, restaurants and a nightclub are all set to be created as part of the scheme to fill the massive gap site between the Cowgate and South Bridge.
New Sheriff Court buildings, a live music venue and flats are also likely to be part of the development, which will feature public closes and two mini-courtyards.
Whiteburn Projects, the company responsible for an award-winning office complex on Holyrood Road, has sealed a deal to buy out eight site owners just over three years after the blaze devastated a string of tenement buildings.
The firm, which unveiled its plans today, has fought off competition from 25 other developers interested in the site.
Whiteburn has joined forces with city architect Allan Murray - who has won plaudits for designing The Tun building for the same firm on Holyrood Road - on the Cowgate project, which will see a "modernist and contemporary" building created.
The buy-out deal is understood to be in the region of 4 million and it is thought any scheme will cost at least 20m to create.
It is hoped that a formal planning application will be lodged with the city council by next summer, with work beginning a year later.
Mr Murray is also the master-planner hired by Mountgrange, which is aiming to transform the former New Street bus depot into a multi-million pound development, and was also responsible for designing a new hotel development on the Royal Mile, which has just secured the backing of the city council.
The Tun - which was built on a site previously occupied by part of the old Scottish and Newcastle brewery - is now home to the Edinburgh headquarters of the BBC, as well as offices for the British Council, the European Parliament, Scottish Enterprise and the Commission for Racial Equality.
Whiteburn was also responsible for transforming the brewery's former clock tower into a PizzaExpress restaurant next door.
The firm's Cowgate scheme was chosen from a shortlist of four selected by agents acting on behalf of the eight owners of property affected by the blaze, including Edinburgh University, the owners of the former Gilded Balloon venue, Luminar Leisure, La Belle Angele nightclub and others. La Belle Angele is the only business expected to return to the site.
John Shepherd, chief executive of Whiteburn, said: "We're 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.
"We look forward in due course to securing the support of the council's planning department and the relevant statutory authorities in helping us to redevelop this site.
"We'll be relishing the opportunity to create a 21st century building to both enhance South Bridge and provide a new link from it to the Cowgate."
Chartered surveyor John McGregor, who helped secure the deal between the property owners and the developer, said there were a number of reasons that it had taken so long to reach this stage, including the number of owners involved, waiting for insurance claims to be settled, the need to meet the demands of a development brief for the site drawn up by the city council and making the scheme commercially viable.
Mr McGregor said: "In the last nine months since a preferred developer was chosen, we have been resolving the complex web of legal interests and rights over the site.
"As well as the eight original parties directly affected by the fire, there are a further three parties associated with the buildings and a number of organisations that were required to adjust legal documents.
"This was in addition to a title which had not been updated since the buildings were first constructed and where some adjoining properties retained rights over the fire site."
A spokesman for the joint owners said: "We're delighted that after what has been a long journey we're close to giving Edinburgh an opportunity to fill the Cowgate fire site and that, in Whiteburn, we believe we've found an energetic and forward-thinking company that will see the project through to completion."
Among those to lose out in the wake of the Cowgate fire was city comedy impresario Karen Koren, whose Gilded Balloon club played host to a string of big names over the years, but she was only a tenant in the building.
Another tenant was jazz musician Bill Kyle, who had opened a new venture on South Bridge just months before the fire. He recently launched a new live music venture on Chambers Street, just around the corner from where his fire-hit venue once stood.
More than 150 fire engines from across the Lothians, Fife and Strathclyde fought the flames for a period of 52 hours until the Cowgate blaze was extinguished shortly before midnight on December 9, 2002.
The fire was blamed on a faulty fuse box.
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