Promoter stands up for George Street Spiegeltent

The Famous Spiegeltent was sited in George Street for the first time last year, when it 'brought 200,000 people back into the city centre'.  Picture: Kate Chandler
The Famous Spiegeltent was sited in George Street for the first time last year, when it 'brought 200,000 people back into the city centre'. Picture: Kate Chandler
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ONE of the top promoters on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on a collision course with city centre businesses, after claiming that his plans to use the middle of George Street for the second year in a row are under threat.

Tommy Sheppard has vowed to press ahead with plans to bring the Famous Spiegeltent, one of the iconic venues, back outside his Assembly Rooms, venue as well as a large outdoor bar, despite the opposition of several firms in the area.

Mr Sheppard – who is demanding a decision from the city council on his plans by the beginning of March – has written to a number of senior councillors to try to oppose plans to move the Spiegeltent away from the Assembly Rooms.

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie told The Scotsman that last year’s experiment was viewed as a success by the council and said it was not clear if there was enough room to move the Spiegeltent into St Andrew Square Garden, an alternative site put forward by critics.

It is understood both Assembly Rooms and Spiegeltent only made a profit last year thanks to takings from the large bar, which was similar in scale to those provided by rival venues around Edinburgh University’s main campus.

David Bates, the Australian impresario behind the Spiegeltent for the past 20 years, is also believed to be reconsidering whether to come to Edinburgh this year, after learning of the plans to relocate the venue.

He said the viability of the two venues would be affected and efforts to bring Fringe crowds back to George Street undermined if his proposals are rejected. He has also questioned the viability of plans to close off large parts of George Street to traffic for a culture corridor, with the Fringe expected to provide street performers.

Mr Sheppard is lobbying councillors for a repeat of last year, when a large bar operated outside the Assembly Rooms and helped to underwrite shows in the two venues.

He told them: “We cannot wait until just before the Festival to know whether the Spiegel­terrace will go ahead. We are asking the council now to clarify in policy terms its support for the Spiegelterrace and to state whether – subject to compliance with all licensing conditions – it believes the event should be repeated, albeit with a range of changes.

“Without that clarity by the beginning of March, we cannot commit time and resources to a major project requiring hundreds of thousands of pounds and a fair degree of international collaboration.”

Mr Sheppard has promised to make changes to the way his outdoor venue and bar ran last year in an effort to pacify opponents. Business leaders want the Spiegeltent and its bar relocated to St Andrew Square Garden and for bars and restaurants to be
allowed to run their own outdoor eating and drinking areas.

However, Mr Sheppard said: “By any measure, the Spiegel­terrace was a success last year. From a standing start, a new destination was created on the Fringe which brought around 200,000 people back into the city centre. The site was well managed and the public well behaved. There were no disturbances, no arrests and no-one was injured.

“This plan is supported 
by seven businesses in the immediate vicinity. We believe that these proposals provide an anchor to spread the cultural and economic benefits of the Festival to the whole area.”

Mr Cardownie said: “We have two separate proposals, but, as a council, we haven’t had the chance to discuss them as yet.

“The council clearly has to be mindful of the businesses on George Street, as well as
appreciating that the Assembly Rooms is a major Fringe venue. The very fact that we are having discussions about what to do on George Street during the Fringe is a positive thing. In previous years, people were opposed to anything happening at all.”