Assembly Rooms refurbishment moves a step closer

Plans to revitalise Edinburgh's historic Assembly Rooms have moved a step closer to fruition with the submission of an application to the Council's Planning Committee.

City-based architects LDN have been working closely with officers from the Council's City Development and Culture & Sport teams since March to draw up a revised £9.3m refurbishment scheme for the Grade A-listed George Street events hub.

Since the revamp missed out on a share of Heritage Lottery Funding earlier this year, project leaders have been working tirelessly to rescope the project and ensure that the refurbishment proceeds as soon as possible. Overall the project ethos remains the same and the timeline for the project is unchanged.

Under the plans, elements of the historic Georgian building would be restored to their original use, with high end retail units occupying the rooms on either side of the main doors and the elegant Supper Room being transformed into a 'destination' restaurant.

These alterations will make possible substantial refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms' main function rooms, the Ballroom and the Music Room, which are in desperate need of modernisation and repairs.

These essential works, which will bring the building up to 21st century standards whilst retaining its historic fabric and heritage value, will enable the Council to meet the needs of all our existing customers 52 weeks of the year.

The need to refurbish the Assembly Rooms has been acknowledged by tourism bodies and business leaders across the city.

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure Convenor, said: "Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms are truly unique in the UK in terms of both their purpose and their design.

"Over the centuries, this gorgeous building has played host to a huge array of events, from royal banquets and book readings by world-famous authors to ceilidhs, cultural performances, fairs and balls. It is also, of course, one of the city's key festival venues. The sad truth now is that the Assembly Rooms are in desperate need of full refurbishment, in order to guarantee their future for centuries to come.

"The plans which have been submitted for planning approval will do just this: not only will the refurbishment breathe new life into this beautiful building, but it will put it firmly on the map as a premier events venue right in the heart of Scotland's capital city. Shops and a dining room were part of the Assembly Rooms original design - indeed, there were shops within the building right up until the 1950s - so by including these elements in the revamp, we are effectively returning the Assembly Rooms to its intended layout."

The funding package for the refurbishment is based on a leasing mechanism whereby commercial income from the ground floor enables the Council to refurbish the entire building.

Gordon Dewar, Chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), said: "Edinburgh's tourism sector fully endorses the Council's ambitious vision for transforming and revitalising the Assembly Rooms. This historic and beautiful venue is truly unique - it's the only one of its kind in the UK, it enjoys a fabulous location in the heart of central Edinburgh and it offers a fantastic mix of spaces which makes it highly attractive to conference organisers, events specialists and commercial retail operators alike. The Assembly Rooms is a crucial component of Edinburgh's reputation as an events city so it is vital that all options are explored to retain this remarkable venue in its finest form."

Alan Johnston, Chair of Destination Edinburgh Marketing Alliance (DEMA), said: "The planned transformation of the Assembly Rooms forms an integral part of block four of the City's ambitious String of Pearls investment strategy. This sort of capital investment to create top quality facilities is vital to Edinburgh's continued competitive positioning and economic success, and adds to the city's reputation as a world class place to visit, invest, live, work and study. It is extremely important that the Assembly Rooms secures the investment it needs and deserves so that it can fulfil its role as one of the capital's premier arts and conference events venues."

Assembly Rooms Project timescales: It is anticipated that the first phase of works will commence in spring 2011. The refurbishment will be completed by summer 2012, in time for the Assembly Rooms to play a pivotal role in Edinburgh's cultural offer for the Cultural Olmpiad.

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