Spiegeltent paves way for al-fresco makeover in Edinburgh

George Street last August with The Famous Spiegeltent straddling the road       Picture: Kate Chandler
George Street last August with The Famous Spiegeltent straddling the road Picture: Kate Chandler
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A FESTIVAL arena which stopped the traffic in the middle of one of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfares is set to make a return in 2013, after businesses said they also wanted to spill out into the street.

Existing cafes, bars and restaurants would be allowed to run extended al-fresco areas under plans to boost George Street during the Fringe.

The Famous Spiegeltent is also set to make a return to the middle of the street after promoters revealed 200,000 people visited it in August.

Business leaders said the majority of local firms favoured closing off part of the street to traffic again in August, as long as they were able to take more advantage of the move. It is understood a number of parking spaces will be removed by the city council from the north part of the street in the spring to allow businesses to expand in advance of the Fringe.

A report commissioned on the running of the Famous Spiegeltent and revamped ­Assembly Rooms last summer said the two venues were “very much two sides of the same coin”.

It states: “They were jointly managed, served by a single box office and promoted through a single programme and marketing campaign. One could not exist without the other.”

Tommy Sheppard, the promoter behind the two venues, said the outdoor bar in the middle of the street was “essential” to ensure the shows made a profit.

He added: “If we hadn’t had the outdoor bar, we would still be in debt by now, there’s no doubt about it.

“I’d be happy for other businesses to spill out into the street more. George Street should be the Edinburgh equivalent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and we want to work with other ­businesses.

“This is about attracting people to George Street from other parts of the city, not about moving people around George Street. We always wanted to open the Assembly Rooms with a bang rather than a whimper.

“I know there was an issue last year over some businesses having to take tables and chairs inside while the outdoor venue remained open and I think they had a valid point. We should be encouraging people to sit outside and have a meal after 10pm.”

Andy Neal, chief executive of the organisation Essential Edinburgh, which represents hundreds of New Town businesses, said: “There’s a general feeling that the people who are here the other 11 months of the year want to benefit from the closure of the street again.

“George Street is the most successful street in Edinburgh and has some great food and drink businesses. I would love to see them expand out into the street more than at present.”

Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, said: “The Spiegelterrace gave the New Town a point of focus during the Fringe. It brought fantastic animation to the street and while there are areas of improvement that need to be addressed for next year, there’s a strong sense that it is the way forward.”