Fringe firm seeks rethink on venue ban after losses

Fringe show organisers claim they were taken to the brink of financial ruin after being turfed out of a New Town square for the 70th anniversary of Edinburgh's festivals this summer.

St Andrew Square this year played host to the EIFs opening sound-and-light show, Bloom. Picture: Neil Hanna

The owners of St Andrew Square have been urged to rethink a controversial ban on venues in its garden by promoters after a “disastrous” season in an alternative site.

The operators of the Stand Comedy Club said the losses they racked up were “enough to buy a house in Edinburgh” after being forced to move from the square into the Freemason’s Hall on George Street.

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They claim their problems were compounded after the council refused a request to close part of George Street outside the venue, despite agreeing to similar moves outside the home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Assembly Rooms.

Salt ‘n’ Sauce Promotions ran two venues in the garden – the Famous Spiegeltent and The Stand in the Square – for three years, until the firm was told it would not be able to return due to the impact they were having on the turf.

The firm has asked the council, the Festival Fringe Society and Essential Edinburgh – the business group which maintains the garden on behalf of the square’s owners – to help secure a return for next year.

The Edinburgh International Festival was allowed to install infrastructure in the garden for a sound and light curtainraiser, while the site will be taken over by an ice rink and bar for the festive season. However, the Fringe promoters claim they have been left in the dark over what will be allowed next August, despite a plea for an early decision.

It emerged in February that the owners of the square had demanded a clampdown on the staging of Fringe shows in the square, forcing the Famous Spiegeltent to quit the event completely.

Salt ‘n’ Sauce later accused the EIF and Standard Life, one of the co-owners of the square, and the sponsor of the EIF opening event, of a “bloody disgraceful takeover” of the space. Director Kenny O’Brien has written to Essential Edinburgh asking for a return to the square or for part of George Street to be blocked off so a “hub” can be created.

He said: “Your decision not to allow us to use St Andrew Square as a venue this year has hit us hard. The combined losses on George Street were enough to buy a house in Edinburgh.

“Had our company not been a strong position to start with the effects of this scale of loss would have been ruinous. We’ll survive, but we can’t afford to ever take this sort of risk again. It’s now essential 
to quickly clarify our options for next year and beyond.”

Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith said: “We acknowledge receipt of the letter and we’re working with Salt ‘n’ Sauce and other interested parties. When decisions have been made we’ll release this information at the appropriate time.”

A spokeswoman for the council said: “We are happy to have a continued dialogue with all stakeholders in the New Town area over future Fringe activity. We understand the requirements for early decision-making.”