IT IS already the world-renowned backdrop to one of Scotland’s most successful and lucrative events.
Now two new performance stages are due to be built on Edinburgh Castle esplanade as part of a long-term expansion drive by the organisation behind the city’s famous military Tattoo.
The roofed stages would be installed each summer by the Tattoo, along with its 8,500-seat arena, and made available to concert promoters, event organisers and the city’s main arts festivals.
Tattoo officials hope the move will allow the esplanade to host more high-profile events in the summer months, by removing the need to build a major stage and technical facilities for just one or two concerts each year.
It has also announced a £5 million move into new headquarters in the Old Town after snapping up a prime chunk of property from Edinburgh City Council just months after opening a new three-storey eatery overlooking the castle.
The £16m arena, which can accommodate up to 10,000 people, including standing room on the esplanade, is only used for a handful of events each year, like last summer’s Tom Jones concert and next year’s Lionel Richie gig. The current stands – which the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and the city council helped pay for – were unveiled nearly three-and-a-half years ago.
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The new stages could be made available to Fringe performers to use during the day, hired out for night-time events at the Edinburgh International Festival when the Tattoo is not being staged and also deployed for the military showpiece itself to give audiences a better view of some of the singers and musicians.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is televised in more than 30 countries and is worth at least £35m to the economy, has been sold out for the past 16 years.
Brigadier David Allfrey, the event’s chief executive and producer, revealed in October that it was now turning over more than £10m for the first time, with income from corporate hospitality soaring from £146,000 in 2009 to £1.13m this August thanks to the advent of facilities in the new stands.
Earlier this year the Tattoo joined forces with Victor and Carina Contini, the entrepreneurs behind the Scottish Cafe on The Mound, to transform a run-down 16th century building on the Royal Mile into a three-storey cafe and restaurant complex.
The idea for new semi-permanent stages, which would be built along with a host of technical infrastructure above the castle’s ancient moat, emerged during talks with the BBC over the Commonwealth Games concert broadcast from the esplanade ahead of Glasgow’s sporting spectacular. Brigadier Allfrey, who took over the event the year the new spectator stands were installed for the first time, said he was surprised to discover the area above the moat was not factored into that scheme.
He told Scotland on Sunday that he believed that the new stages could be built for “a fraction” of the £16m it cost for the spectator stands, if approval could be won from Historic Scotland, which is responsible for the attraction, and a financial consortium put together.
Brigadier Allfrey said: “At the moment, all our infrastructure is in place for quite a long time without actually being used.
“Building stages like this in these big gaps above the moat would not be that difficult. We went through a design for something similar with the BBC last summer, but it was just too expensive to do for a one-off event.
“There’s a real opportunity here for a strategic investment in one of the greatest settings in Scotland that we already use with some really expensive stands.
“At the moment, there are concerts in front of Edinburgh Castle, there are not concerts at Edinburgh Castle. That’s what this is all about.
“The venue has got its challenges. The castle’s lifeblood is its visitors, so you’d need a solution that allows them to flow in and out at speed. But when you’ve got £16m spectator stands you’ve really got to make the best use of them.
“The beauty of this is that you would be able to keep the castle open during the day and also allow the front of it to remain visible.
“You could also run a stage all the way across at night-time when the castle is closed. You would also have light and sound facilities already wired in. You could conceivably have all sorts of things on these stages and use the Tattoo stands each and every day of the summer. It is an iconic venue already and what I’m suggesting is we make the very best of it.”
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