City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Assembly Rooms' Multi-million Makeover Gets Go-ahead

By edg - Posted on 09 December 2010

Assembly Rooms front

Edinburgh City Council yesterday gave the go-ahead to the controversial plan for a £9.5 million refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms on George Street.

The plan, which will see the ground floor of the city owned building converted into boutiques and a fine-dining restaurant, has faced heavy criticism from Assembly Theatre, which has run the Fringe venue for 30 years.

The reconfigured building will see the flagship Fringe organisation lose four of its smaller performance spaces - the Edinburgh Suite, Wildman Room, Supper Room and West Drawing Room. It'll also lose the Club Bar.

Before the decision, people rallied around William Burdett Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, as he led a high profile campaign to "Save the Assembly Rooms" although he was unable to sway the decision by the Development Management Sub-Committee yesterday.

The Supper Room - Assembly Rooms

A building "revitalised" or "dismembered"?

Supporters of Save the Assembly Rooms campaign - some appearing on a web video - said that Edinburgh was "shooting itself in the foot". Simon Callow called it a "tragic loss".

Council Culture Leader Deidre Brock shot back that the plans will see "the beloved Georgian building restored to its original keeping with the history of the building as captured in the venue's Conservation Plan".

"Our plans, exhaustively discussed with heritage bodies and other stakeholders, will revitalise this beautiful building, thus ensuring that our historic events venue can continue to host fairs, ceilidhs, gala evenings and concerts all 52 weeks of the year," she said.

However, critics of the plan say it will cut to the heart of the Fringe. Alex Reedijk CEO of Scottish Opera talked about the venue's "iconic nature" being "dismembered."

"You look at the damaged cities around here. You don't need another shopping mall," said Dundonian actor Brian Cox.

The two shops will be located at ground level, facing George Street with the restaurant at the back of the building.

Brock said: "These alterations will largely finance substantial and historically sensitive refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms' events rooms - the Ballroom, Music Hall, Crush Hall and the East and West Drawing Rooms,".

On one thing both sides agree: the venue is crumbling and needing repair - as evidenced by the partial collapse of the Ballroom ceiling last summer.

Assembly Theatre came up with an alternative plan to renovate the venue while maintaining the current character and layout of the building. It also offered to run the venue the whole year round. Brock dismissed the plan as financially unviable.

The building is set to close for around 18 months refurbishment by the end of the year, which means it will be out of at least one Fringe festival.

Brock recently reminded the Assembly Theatre that when the revamped venue re-opens the Council "is obliged to seek best value through the forthcoming tendering process for the building occupancy."

"Assembly Theatre Ltd have, of course, been invited to note their interest in the tendering process going forward."