September 10, 2008

Film Complex Dream for City Centre Eyesore Site

By Brian Ferguson

Argyle House: Unpopular office block would be demolished

ONE of Edinburgh's eyesores is the favoured location for a new international film complex, The Scotsman has learned.

Argyle House in the West Port, would be bulldozed to make way for a huge extension of the city's cultural quarter on Lothian Road.

City council-owned offices in King's Stables Road will also be demolished as part of the development.

The centrepiece would be the long-touted new home for both the Filmhouse cinema and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The West Port would be transformed by cultural buildings, hotels, bars and restaurants.

The festival has been without a venue for major premieres for five years. Controversial plans for a new complex just off Lothian Road were unveiled four years ago by Edinburgh architect Richard Murphy.

But despite Sir Sean Connery putting his name to it, the scheme stalled because of a lack of council support.

There are still question marks over who would foot the bill for such a scheme. A study last year recommended siting the Centre for the Moving Image on the city's waterfront, but the festival has ruled this out.

Jonathan Guthrie, director of the council's city centre partnership, said: "There's huge room for improvement in the West Port/King's Stables Road area, where there are council offices lying empty. We would like to extend the cultural quarter on Lothian Road into this area and an obvious way of doing that would be through a new film complex.

"We need to know exactly what their requirements would be and discussions are already under way, although it is still very early days."

Argyle House, the 1960s building currently home to government offices such as the Department of Work and Pensions and the Traffic Commissioner, has long been seen as one of the city's ugliest buildings.

Although there are long-term leases to overcome, it is hoped plans for a development could get off the ground within 18 months.

The area is already undergoing a transformation thanks to the opening of a new Edinburgh College of Art building and work starting on a GBP 20 million office development.

Mark Cousins, the film producer, writer and broadcaster, who has been advising the festival on the proposed Centre for the Moving Image, said:

"The film festival is one of the least well-accommodated major film festivals in the world.

"It is scattered across the city and its offices are bursting at the seams. Edinburgh just doesn't have an elegant, world-class 800- seater auditorium for film premieres."

Al Cameron, managing director of the long-established independent Dominion cinema, in Morningside, said: "As long as this new complex is not run by a commercial cinema operator, we would be in favour of it in principle."

(c) 2008 Scotsman, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.