26th May 2018
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Ambitious plan for Shetland base in centre of Edinburgh

A piece of prime retail estate in Edinburgh city centre could be bought at a cost of more than half a million pounds of public money as part of the effort to tout Shetland as a tourist destination to the wider world.

On Thursday, members of the SIC’s development committee will consider a feasibility study by AB Associates into the potential for introducing a Shetland base in the capital which could include a retail shop, information point, office, display and meeting spaces. Councillors are being asked to give head of economic development Neil Grant the green light to investigate the project further.

It is being trailed as “Project Ting” by the economic development department, with the rationale underpinning the scheme being to “gain visibility and reputation in the marketplace” and generate more exposure for Shetland. The base could also be used by councillors and other public service agencies in connection with visits to the Scottish Parliament and other Edinburgh activities.

Although the precise details are fairly sketchy at the moment, the type of premises being looked at could be around 2,500 square feet in size, incorporating a 600-800 square feet shop selling a range of “high quality” Shetland products like knitwear, soap, crafts, books, food and drinks, which would be staffed between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Saturday. There would also be a flexible gallery-type 800-1,000 square feet space which could be used for exhibitions as well as smaller areas for a meeting room, office space and storage.

The outline business plan indicates that ongoing deficit funding of between £80,000 and £140,000 a year would be required, based on the SIC acquiring and owning the premises. Prime retail properties are given as having an average cost of around £220 per square foot, meaning the price tag of acquiring the sort of building space in question could be between £500,000 and £750,000, though a subsequent business plan also suggests it could range from as little as £240,000 to £400,000.

The consultants’ report suggested that parts of the Royal Mile, which is lined with budget tourist shops and in close proximity to Waverley Station and the Scottish Parliament, was among the better locations for a base but there would potentially be problems in finding a suitable property in the area.

It is recommended instead that better homes for the hub – which would most likely be run by new tourist organisation Promote Shetland – would include George Street and its adjoining streets, particularly towards St Andrew’s Square, while the Grassmarket and Victoria Street area is also earmarked for consideration.

A survey of council departments and the health board showed four of the 14 surveyed would be interested in using the proposed facility and were willing to pay to do so, while 55 per cent of private sector organisations consulted said they would be keen to make use of it.

Views among those surveyed varied widely from suggesting that it would help business and tourism to decrying it as a project which “sounds like an expensive waste of money” and it would be better to market specific products at existing specialist outlets.

An accompanying report to councillors from marketing officer Neil Henderson states: “Should here be a desire to proceed … there will be significant financial implications for the council to address in respect of asset purchase or rent as well as operational funding relating to management, staffing, development and promotion.”

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