LESLIE Benzies is poised to snap up St Stephen’s Church, half a mile from his Stockbridge home, in a deal thought to be worth more than £500,000.
Philip Johnston, a spokesman for Mr Benzies, who is president of Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar North, described it as “an entirely philanthrophic purchase” to preserve St Stephen’s with new investment and retain it for community use.
He said Mr Benzies, 43, who is originally from Aberdeen, had lived in Stockbridge for more than a decade and he recognised the building’s “importance to the community”.
He added that the deal would preserve St Stephen’s “for years to come” and “ensure the long-term viability of the property as a community centre that benefits all”.
A charitable trust has been founded to manage the community centre and a board of trustees will include representatives from the local community.
Mr Johnston said: “Stockbridge is a busy residential area with a relatively small number of community venues.
“The preservation of St Stephen’s Church as a community centre meets a pressing need as well as protecting an important historical building.
“We are delighted that we can help bring the church back to its former glory, securing its future whilst providing a renovated local and performing arts centre that will benefit the wider community.”
Designed by architect William Henry Playfair, St Stephen’s Church has been hailed as one of the most important Georgian buildings in the New Town.
The church – which includes a 160ft tower, the longest clock pendulum in Europe and a terrace boasting spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife – is divided into three levels, including an 800-capacity venue suitable for live music, dance and theatre.
It is thought the vow to retain the building for community use will reassure campaign group St Stephen’s Playfair Trust, which previously unveiled plans for a long-term refurbishment and restoration of the building.
More than 50 potential buyers had expressed an interest in the building, some of whom were interested in the possibility of turning it into private flats or a bar-restaurant complex.
Spokesman Mr Johnston added: “My client looks forward to completing the sale imminently to secure the plans for the church’s ongoing use.
“We will engage with the community as the plans progress and look forward to welcoming local residents and groups back to the centre in the very near future.”
Mr Benzies is the lead developer in the Grand Theft Auto series and he was awarded a Bafta special award in 2005, along with Sam Houser, president of Rockstar Games.
However, Grand Theft Auto has been criticised for its violent content.