Antony Reeve-Crook delves into Edinburgh’s secret plans to become a leader in the international exhibitions market.
Edinburgh has long been a place that appeals to event planners. Home to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and a host of other large domestic events, it has a pedigree built on wild landscape and rich history.
Core to its success is a recognisable international brand that is undoubtedly the envy of tourism bureaus globally. The castle, clans, tartan, Scotch whisky, increasingly fashionable waterfront area and international airport are all a stone’s throw from the UK’s most rugged countryside.
Despite this, the city is unable to compete on the global exhibition stage due to the lack of a venue large enough to secure major international shows. The Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) is primarily a national venue, with only 1,250sqm of exhibition space until a 2,000sqm expansion is completed in 2012.
But that could be about to change. For most of last year, the council has been in discussions about developing a new venue in the west of the city and is also considering a new waterfront complex in the city’s north.
Proposals for the new commercial project, expected to complement the centrally located EICC and compete directly with the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) 50 miles west in Glasgow, have picked up momentum since being tabled last summer.
Edinburgh councillor Tom Buchanan told EN Edinburgh City Council is now in the process of analysing both the northern and western possibilities, adding that initial schematic plans for the development in the west have already been presented.
“Both proposals are commercial opportunities, and there is no direct council funding at this stage, but the development in the west of Edinburgh has progressed beyond a general chat to include what the actual building would look like,” he said.
Plans for the multi-purpose venue include space and facilities for exhibitions and conventions, as well as auditorium seating for 10,000. There are also a variety of commercial elements such as retail outlets and entertainment quarters, not unlike the set-up of the forthcoming Bluewater Events Venue in Kent.
“What has been proposed is a larger venue that will enable us to do bigger events,” added the councillor, who was instrumental in setting up the Destination Edinburgh Marketing Alliance (DEMA) – a body dedicated to harnessing the efforts of all parties able to bring fresh business and talent to the city.
Edinburgh Convention Bureau CEO Sue Stuart confirmed the new, multi-use, venue would give Edinburgh a place on the international stage.
“The new venue would enable Edinburgh to go after the big international events,” she commented. “It would not be single use as it would have to satisfy both the city’s cultural and conference requirements. It would also have to provide more than 3,500sqm of space in order not to impact negatively on the EICC’s business.”
Edinburgh has already seen some redevelopment of its event space with the EICC at work on an £85m expansion project. This includes construction of a 2,000sqm multi-purpose main hall allowing the venue to offer 3,235sqm of event space. The new project, being conducted by principal contractor Sir Robert McAlpine, began work at the end of July 2010 and is expected to be completed in December 2012.
Should the council green-light the venue in Leith, in the north of the city, Edinburgh would continue a revitalisation of the formerly neglected waterfront quarter ongoing for several years.
Whether the council goes north or west with its decision, and irrespective of fears that the UK already has ample space to attract international exhibitions, a major venue in Edinburgh could be a huge boon to the city and the country in kind.
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