Arena Edinburgh: Long-awaited arena would take Edinburgh Park ‘cultural quarter’ vision into a new league - Brian Ferguson
It is 20 years ago this month that Edinburgh delivered one of its most impressive coups when it brought the MTV Europe Music Awards to the city for the first time.
I can vividly recall the surprise in the city, and well beyond, that the event had been secured for a site in Leith Docks. Yet just a few months later, a vast pop-up arena had been created next to Ocean Terminal for acts like Kylie Minogue, Beyonce and Pink.
Now Edinburgh has sprung another surprise with the news that one of the world’s biggest live entertainment companies is pursuing a new venue.
The announcement from AEG, operators of the O2 in London, over an 8500-capacity arena in the Edinburgh Park area was a bolt from the blue. Although the west of the city has long been associated with the prospect of an indoor arena, those hopes had almost evaporated in recent years.
Since the Covid pandemic, the headquarters of the Royal Highland Show has re-established itself as a home for major outdoor musical events, including big top concerts, the relocation of the Connect music festival and headline shows by Paolo Nutini and The Killers.
I am sure the level of demand seen for tickets for those events, and where audiences have come from, will have been a key factor in AEG’s move. But the emerging cultural quarter taking shape in the area has undoubtedly played a significant role.
The vision of developers Parabola, who created London’s Kings Place venue, for Edinburgh Park, may have slipped under the radar for many.
But a nearby site has already played host to a temporary arena for the Edinburgh International Festival, and Parabola, which is selling part of its site to AEG, has since created a small-scale indoor events venue, a public square suitable for outdoor events and pop-up venues, and a sculpture trail.
The prospect of an indoor arena would, however, take Edinburgh Park into an entirely new league.
It appears more realistic than previous arena visions given that Parabola has permission for development in the area, and the proposed site is next to two stops and Edinburgh Park railway station. Parabola’s neighbouring sites could also help meet demand for new hotels, bars and restaurants.
For a globally-renowned cultural city, an Edinburgh arena has the big missing element of its arts infrastructure.
Frustration has grown over the past decade as both Glasgow and Aberdeen have invested heavily to upgrade and replace long-running facilities. More journeys than ever are made to Glasgow for shows at the OVO Hydro.
Questions are already being asked about whether 8,500 will be a big enough capacity for the Edinburgh Park venue. However, it is more likely the new venue will be an alternative to the OVO Hydro or P&J Arena rather than direct competition.
It will also offer a significant new addition to venues like the Royal Highland Centre, which will host several 15,000-capacity outdoor shows next year, the 3,000-capacity O2 Academy at Chesser, and Edinburgh Castle esplanade.
But the O2 website also makes it clear the Edinburgh Park venue will not just be for live music, with the tantalising prospect of comedy nights, circus and dance shows, nightclub events and sporting showcases on a scale never before seen in the city.
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