£10m 'threat' to Fringe venue

Refit to 'rip the guts' from Assembly Rooms

The Edinburgh Fringe could lose one of its leading venues under council plans to overhaul the Assembly Rooms.

Any refit is likely to take the historic out of action for at least one festival – but there are fears the proposals could also make the site unviable as a Fringe venue.

William Burdett-Coutts, who runs the venue every August, said: ‘Quite simply, if the council was to go ahead with this it would shut us down.’

The planned £10million refurbishment of the 18th century building would take place over 18 months and include creating an upmarket restaurant in the existing Supper Room and building two new shops at the front, and another at the back.

Burdett-Coutts told the city’s Evening News: ‘The whole guts of our operation would be ripped out. They are talking about us losing three of our main spaces, and the club bar, which is obviously one of our main sources of revenue during the Fringe

‘It's also extremely concerning that the council are talking about an 18-month closure of the Assembly Rooms.

‘No one doubts a refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms is desperately needed but the last thing the city centre needs is more shops. The council has a tremendous asset in the form of the Assembly Rooms, but they are in danger of killing it off completely.’

He also slammed Edinburgh City Council for not consulting him over the plans, saying: ‘I was called to a meeting ad was told what was happening and that I could basically like it or lump it. There was no way it could be called a consultation. It was a fait accompli.’

But city culture leader Donald Anderson said: ‘The Assembly Rooms is for the benefit of the whole city and not just Bill Burdett Coutts. We want it to be an asset all year round.

‘We want to try to timetable the work so that it does not disrupt what happens there during the Fringe, if it can be done.’

Edinburgh residents posting on the Evening News website seem to agree with the council’s plans, with a typical comment stating: ‘Edinburgh is a year-round city - why do these people think that everything revolves around them and the Fringe?’

The revamp is scheduled to start in 2009, when the current lease agreement with Burdett-Coutts expires.

As part of the works, new raked seating and acoustic facilities will be installed in the main Music Hall to make it more suitable for concerts, new bars and two new lifts will be installed and the building’s historic George Street façade will be restored.

Outside of the Fringe, the venue is little used, hosting sporadic events such as arts and craft fairs, auctions and book readings.

Published: 13 Dec 2006

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