Views inside Edinburgh's new St James Quarter as it nears completion

‘Development will succeed because of mix of project’

The W hotel is clearly recognisable with its distinctive ribbon design.  All images by John Gilchrist.
The W hotel is clearly recognisable with its distinctive ribbon design. All images by John Gilchrist.

THE £1 billion development predicted to transform the centre of Edinburgh will officially be known as the St James Quarter, it was announced today.

And despite the problems facing the retail sector, bosses believe the project will prove a success because it ties shops into a wider development including a hotel, aparthotel, restaurants, cinema and flats.

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Construction of the St. James Quarter is now nearing completion

Martin Perry, director of development for the project - previously marketed to retailers as Edinburgh St James - says the official choice of name, which followed research through focus groups, reflects the scope of the project.

“We knew there was a degree of backlash about ‘Edinburgh’ being in front of ‘St James’ with the residents. It was very useful during the development period when you’re marketing out to national organisations and retailers but when we ran our focus groups people were saying ‘We don’t need it to be called

Edinburgh St James - we know it’s in Edinburgh. It was almost insulting to some people.

“We put together half a dozen names. Our preference was simply to swap it round and call it St James and ‘Edinburgh’ in small type underneath, but the focus groups realised we weren’t just rebuilding the St James Shopping Centre and they universally said ‘St James Quarter’ was far more appropriate.”

The development will include nine event spaces, including the third level of the underground car park

The completion of the project has been delayed for six months because of the coronavirus lockdown, but Mr Perry says the cost of that is “not completely quantifiable” though it will run into “many millions of pounds”.

“There are some additional construction costs,” he says. “And if you delay a project of this sort for six months you’ve lost six months’ worth of income from rents, etc, lost six months of turnover and you have to pay your whole team’s salaries for an extra six months - but everyone is in the same boat.”

The shops in the project were due to open in October but because of Covid are now expected to welcome customers soon after Easter. All the other parts of the development are also due to open next year apart from the W hotel, which is scheduled for 2022.

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And Mr Perry said the only trader not expected to take up their unit in the development because of Covid is the restaurant chain Yo Sushi, which ran into financial trouble during lockdown. Mr Perry admits he expected more to drop out.

The shops were due to open in October but Covid has delayed that until after Easter

But he says: “We have about 74 per cent of spaces contracted with seven months to go until opening. We’re fairly confident we’ll get the remaining space contracted before then.”

And he is convinced the project will still succeed despite Covid and the upheaval going on in the retail sector.

“Retail was already in trouble generally - there had been this fundamental shift towards online and that was increasing at a pace. So there was already a major structural change going on for retail.

“That has probably accelerated because of Covid. People have had to shop online that previously didn’t - they might have realised how good it is, but also how bad it can be.

The St. James Quarter is predicted to transform the city centre

“Retailers have wondered what it means for them and they have come to the conclusion for physical retailing in the future it’s based around experience, interaction with other users, events and tourism. It is a different approach. What we have come to realise is we have a quality product in a very high quality city with exactly what retailers are looking at for the future.”

As well as over 80 shops, the St James Quarter will have the 244-bedroom W hotel with its distinctive “ribbon” exterior and a 75-room Roomzzz Aparthotel, where guests can stay for anything from a night to a year.

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There will be nine event spaces set to host a variety of pop-up fashion and music shows. An events programme is being created for next year’s festival time, with up to 27 shows a day.

One of the event spaces is the third level of the development’s underground car park, which has been designed with theatre lighting and sound to accommodate shows.

A five-screen Everyman Cinema will offer conference facilities as well as films.

The residential element of the project involves 152 apartments, ranging from studio to three-bedroom, with a shared garden room and full concierge service.

Construction work is expected to finish by the end of the year, with testing and commissioning to follow

And there are over 30 restaurants, from fast food to fine dining. Earlier this month it was announced the development would have the first Bonnie & Wild Scottish food hall, a 16,600 sq ft space billed as the largest single food and beverage site in Scotland. As well as featuring a wide range of Scottish produce, it will offer visitors a taste of life on a Highland estate with a virtual stalking and grouse shooting experience.

Mr Perry explained: “It’s for groups of people and you go into an area where you’re surrounded by screens that make it feel as if you were stalking - it’s got all the sounds and everything around it and you have your digital gun.” The idea is to get you interested in it and you might want to go and do the real thing.”

The development is now just months away from completion. Mr Perry says most of the construction crews will have finished their work and the cranes will disappear by the end of the year.

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“Then there’s a lot of testing and commissioning. Broadly, we’re expecting to finish the build in the middle of March and after would be looking to open some time after Easter.

“We are transforming the east end of the city into an inspiring, attractive and vibrant destination for people to live, shop, experience, play and dine.

“The St James Quarter will be yet another reason to visit Edinburgh, which, now more than ever, will bring a much-needed boost to the city.”

Businesses confirmed for St James Quarter

Lego Store - toy giant

Joe Browns - fashion brand

The Body Shop

Rituals - luxury cosmetics.

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H&M - Swedish clothing brand

Pull & Bear - Spanish clothing and accessories

Hackett - British menswear retailer

Halifax Bank of Scotland

New Look - British fashion retailer

The Perfume Shop - perfumes

Sunglass Hut - sunglasses

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Hotel Chocolat - luxury chocolate.

Goldsmiths - luxury jewellery

@pizza - pizzas

Five Guys - American fast food restaurant

Pandora - jewellery

Miele - German home appliances

Next - clothing

Russell & Bromley - footwear and handbags

Breitling and Omega - watches

JD Sports - sports fashion

Mango - clothing

O2 - phones

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Boots - health, beauty and pharmaceutical

Superdrug - budget beauty and pharmacy

Stradivarius - clothing The Alchemist - cocktail bar and restaurant

& Other Stories - clothing

Three - phones

Bershka - clothing retailer

Zara - clothing, accessories, shoes,

Bonnie & Wild - food hall

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Tommy Hilfiger - clothing

Calvin Klein - clothing

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