WORK was due to start today on an upmarket hotel and shopping development at the east end of Princes Street.
The £12 million project will see German hotel chain Motel One open a 140-bedroom venture directly opposite the Balmoral Hotel. And technology giant Apple is expected to be one of the tenants in the row of shops underneath, opening a store. The work is scheduled to take 18 months to complete.
The block has been standing empty for about a year. Burger King, which used to occupy one of the ground-floor shop spaces, closed at the end of March last year. Bookshop Waterstone’s, which had one of the other units, moved out a few months earlier. Most of the accommodation above the shops had lain unused for many years.
City leaders had hoped a four or five-star hotel could be attracted to the site. But although Motel One is classed as a budget hotel, it is well-known for its high-quality design and is being seen as different from other budget chains with hotels in the Capital.
The Princes Street hotel will be the firm’s second project in Edinburgh. The Evening News revealed last year that Motel One, which has 19 hotels in Germany and Austria, was to convert former council offices in Advocate’s Close, off the Royal Mile, into a 200-bedroom hotel.
The firm behind the Princes Street development, global giant Aberdeen Asset Management, has indicated it sees the new scheme linking in with the proposed new St James Quarter development around the corner.
And the company made it clear it was looking for upmarket retailers for the block.
It would not confirm that Apple was taking one of the shops, but it is understood the worldwide technology company has signed a deal for the new unit where Burger King used to be.
A spokesman said: “We are looking at creating three flagship stores. We cannot confirm any names, but we have signed a pre-let agreement for one of the three, the one furthest to the east. We are not actively marketing the rest at this time.”
He said the hotel and the shops should all be ready to open as soon as the work was completed. The east end of Princes Street is currently closed to traffic because of the tramworks. But the start of work on the development should mean some improvement in the appearance of the area.
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale wrote to council chiefs last month, voicing concern about the image which the empty units conveyed to visitors emerging from Waverley station. “Rather than resigning ourselves to our city looking a mess during the tramworks, we should try even harder to give a good impression of the vibrant, beautiful city Edinburgh is,” she said.
Economic development convener Tom Buchanan told her he agreed and said the first stage of work would be to erect timber hoardings to conceal the shopfronts while work was being carried out.