Shoppers will have to wait until Spring 2021 before being able to experience the £1 billion new Edinburgh St James centre after Covid-19 postponed the planned opening in October later this year.
Instead the shops will open at the same time as the Everyman Cinema and Roomzzz Aparthotel which remain on schedule for their opening in the spring of next year.
The construction site was forced to halt work due to Scottish Government rules for a total of 11 weeks and two days, meaning the three week planned gap between completion and opening on October 22 evaporated.
This, alongside blackout clauses’ in retailers contracts stopping new stores launching during the Christmas period, has forced the hands of the developers to shift the opening date.
The confirmation of the expected delay came alongside an assurance by Martin Perry, the project’s director of development, that the centre would not become the Capital’s next ‘white elephant’.
He said: “I don’t see any risk really at all. At the current time we have close to 90 per cent of the centre in either negotiation, contracted or in legals. Something like 66 per cent of the scheme is contracted now.
"If you think about the fact that the scheme has got two hotels, both of them moving forward with apace. We have seen incredibly encouraging signs in the residential particularly from the Scottish market and the local market.
"We have tried to keep entirely open and speaking to all of the tenants whether they are signed up or through negations throughout this period and the vast majority of them have continued to progress.”
Mr Perry said he was “very confident” the project would be a “rip-roaring” success despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "I think there will be a little bit of impact because the country will take quite a bit of time to recover from this but nevertheless I am pretty confident it certainly won’t be a white elephant.
"You can get that sort of thing when you have got an out of town type development but something that is locked, right into the centre of the town, that feeds into all of its infrastructure and all its culture, I honestly don’t believe it can fail unless we didn’t get the people coming in in the first place but we have the vast majority of that secured now.
"I think we were fortunate that we had virtually most of that done before Covid and I’m still very confident that it will be a rip-roaring success.”
He added the centre does not expect any of its major names to pull out of the scheme before it opens despite retail’s wider struggles.
One potential casualty could be Pret a Manger which had been in negotiations with ESJ prior to their financial struggles, but Mr Perry said no retailers in any stage of negotiation with the centre have formally pulled out.
He said: “It’s a horrendous thing that’s happened for everybody and for an awful lot of businesses. We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t obviously opened the scheme and of those retailers that we had contracted with, none of those or any of the partners are in any distress that would cause their business to be terminal and for them not to continue with the St James project.
"No retailers have formally withdrawn from the Edinburgh St James project even in negotiation or that are leased at all which is probably testament to how strong the offer is.
"We have always said we are trying to define the future retail destination which is far more mixed-use, far more vibrant, far more integrated with the events and the city and those sorts of things are what the retailers are recognising even more so than they did pre-Covid.”
Mr Perry added that more retailers, mainly the larger food and drink units in the centre, will be announced in the coming days and weeks.
Concerns over the viability of the Everyman Cinema were also put to rest by Mr Perry who said the company was in a “pretty good position” and that the two-seater sofa set-up meant they were “in a slightly better position” than other cinemas to bring in social distancing measures.
“At the moment they are still looking at this being their Scottish flagship offer,” said Mr Perry. “We’ve had no indications other than the fact that they’re steaming ahead so we should be opening that in the middle of next year barring this potential second spike that everyone is talking about, everything looks fine on the cinema front.”
The planned W Hotel, which is owned by the development but will be run by hotel chain Marriott, is also still on track for its 2022 opening.
The exact date for the centre’s opening is yet to be finalised.
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