Up to 180 new jobs to be created as Johnnie Walker unveils £150m Edinburgh whisky centre plans

It was the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill and now the world’s best selling whisky brand has revealed plans to put the home of Johnnie Walker at the heart of the Capital.

A roof-top bar with views in every direction across the city will top the seven-floor attraction with three floors of multi-sensory immersive visitor experience at the centre of the newly submitted plans for the former Frasers site on Princes Street.

If approved, the iconic meeting point for many locals at the landmark West End building, will house the visitor centre as well as a bar academy and a new events space geared towards staging music, theatre, arts and community events.

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The attraction is intended to be the focal point of a £150 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism by Johnnie Walker owners, Diageo.

Diageo submit plans for new multi-million pound visitor centre in the former Frasers department store building.Diageo submit plans for new multi-million pound visitor centre in the former Frasers department store building.
Diageo submit plans for new multi-million pound visitor centre in the former Frasers department store building.

The application, jointly submitted by Diageo and building owner Parabola, will be assessed by the council’s planning department.

Diageo Global Scotch Whisky Director, Cristina Diezhandino, said: “Our ambition is to create a visitor experience that will rank not only as one of the greatest whisky attractions of the world, but one of the greatest brand attractions in any industry, putting Scotland at the forefront of the global boom in experiential travel.”

The Frasers department store closed its doors in November after 65 years in operation. The historic outlet – a firm favourite for Capital shoppers since 1953 – was initially set to shut in September.

But the proposals for the new attraction include a promise of the retention and restoration of heritage features of the building, where possible.

This will include restoring the famous clock on the corner of Princes Street and Hope Street – known locally as the Binns corner after the former department store - which was an Edinburgh institution and traditional meeting point for city residents.

Diageo said the development would creates a strategic opportunity for Edinburgh city centre, establishing a major attraction in the west end, helping to balance visitor footfall across the city.

Chairman of Diageo in Scotland, David Cutter, said: “The location is one of Edinburgh’s most exceptional landmark buildings and we plan to restore it to its former glory as a cornerstone of the city and a thriving part of its cultural and social life.

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“We have the most passionate and skilled whisky-makers in the world here in Scotland and we want to celebrate their craft and everything that is great about Scotland and whisky.”

At street level the plans include a significant retail space, bringing a contemporary shopping experience and interior design inspired by the Johnnie Walker retail flagship store in Madrid, which opened in November.

Tony Hordon, Managing Director of Parabola, said: “At Parabola we feel like the custodians of a beautiful piece of Edinburgh real estate and we have taken great care to consider its future. 146 Princes Street represents an opportunity to deliver our core values: place, quality and destination.

“With Diageo and their vision, we believe we have a use which will not only protect the building for many years to come, but it also celebrates the building, its history, and its heritage. We are particularly excited to be working with the Diageo team given our shared values and our sheer ambition to celebrate one of Edinburgh’s great buildings.”

Diageo bosses say the plans indicate that when fully operational the visitor centre will create between 160 and 180 new full-time equivalent jobs and generate in the region of £135 million in tourism spend in the wider Edinburgh economy through the visitors it attracts to the city.

The bar academy, that will be a home for Diageo’s award-winning Learning for Life programme, creates training and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry for unemployed people, and works to improve hospitality standards and promotes the responsible serving and consumption of alcohol.

Diageo is currently investing over £185 million in Scotch whisky experiences in Scotland. As well as the Edinburgh location, the company is also investing to transform its existing 12 distillery visitor attractions across Scotland and a £35 million investment to reopen the iconic distilleries of Port Ellen and Brora.

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