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Johnnie Walker visitor hub recommended for approval

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May 2 2019

Johnnie Walker visitor hub recommended for approval

Diageo’s bid to erect a prominent whisky-themed visitor experience on Edinburgh’s Princes Street look set to go-ahead after planners recommended that the visitor centre be approved.

Conservation specialists Simpson & Brown have drawn up plans to transform the former Frasers department store to accommodate the vision, adapting the current structure to accommodate a visitor experience spread over three floors as well as an events space, bar academy and shop unit.

Under the plans, a ‘subservient’ bronze rooftop extension would be built housing a bar, tasting rooms and exterior terrace with panoramic views to the Castle.

If the opinion of the planners is heeded at a meeting of the city’s development management sub-committee on Wednesday the attraction could open its doors by Christmas 2020.

Conservation bodies including Historic Environment Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage raised no objections to the planned work.


#1 Posted by Elmo on 3 May 2019 at 10:14 AM
I wonder how Johnnie Walkers home town of Kilmarnock feels about being dropped like a hot plate in favour of Auld Reekie???
#2 Posted by CM on 3 May 2019 at 10:42 AM
#1 I'd imagine like the rest of Scotland, disappointed and left behind.
Mr Matt Connell
#3 Posted by Mr Matt Connell on 3 May 2019 at 10:55 AM
I am from Kilmarnock and find this really annoying. The local history ignored as well as the closing of production.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#4 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 3 May 2019 at 11:36 AM
This is up there with that touchstone of Thatcherism in the 1980's -- the Beatles museum shut up shop in Liverpool and moved to London.

Holyrood is Westminster MK2 -- giant vampire squid sucking the life out of Scotland to keep 10 square miles of Auld Reekie in the pink.

This really has global significance.
Detroit -- when Motown moved to LA.
Kilmarnock -- when Johnny walked.

Lost everything to corporate greed and a political elite willing to sell someone else's soul to the tourist monster.

Scotland is currently a re-run of the 1970's Moscow metro debate and the good guys are losing.
#5 Posted by Egbert on 3 May 2019 at 12:06 PM
#4 I think you protest too much - Glasgow's doing pretty well in terms of development activity right now, Dundee is surging ahead on the back of the V&A, Aberdeen is still chucking its oil money at various questionable things. The issue of course, as ever, is of the quality of what's being built in all of these places. But it's hardly Edinburgh vs. the rest. The divide is probably more between the larger cities plus prosperous rural communities both in commuter hinterlands and tourism honeypots, and the smaller urban areas, with the medium-sized towns looking alarmingly vulnerable. The commenters above are definitely right to highlight the savage irony for Kilmarnock.
The ghost of Leonid Brezhnev
#6 Posted by The ghost of Leonid Brezhnev on 3 May 2019 at 12:21 PM
#4 - 'Scotland is currently a re-run of the 1970's Moscow metro debate and the good guys are losing.'
?epbmo! I must've missed that - and I was there at the time!
Anyway, if nothing else, it sounds interesting. Would you care to expand/explain the analogy? Thanks.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#7 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 3 May 2019 at 12:32 PM
The story here is Auld Reekie One -- Kilmarnock Nil.

No amount of excuses will take away the fact that Kilmarnock has lost out heavily and Auld Reekie is cashing in.
#8 Posted by CM on 3 May 2019 at 12:33 PM
#5 Agreed. Life in Scotlands small cities and large towns, perhaps with the exception of Stirling, is pretty grim.
#9 Posted by TheCapital on 3 May 2019 at 13:14 PM
I don't understand the resentment towards Edinburgh here at all. This will contribute massively to the Scottish economy and enhance an already wonderful, beautiful city. I get this is a big loss to Kilmarnock, but do forgive my city for accepting a proposal for an amazing new attraction for residents and visitors alike in what is an important building.
Robin Bs Discount Store
#10 Posted by Robin Bs Discount Store on 3 May 2019 at 13:25 PM
@CM. The only thing Stirling has going for it is the castle - the rest is a total dump. The town planning there has been the biggest property tragedy in Scotland. It had so much potential, but they made a Cumbernauld of it!
#11 Posted by CM on 3 May 2019 at 14:08 PM
#9 One would say that if one lives in Edinburgh. #10 True, but doing rather much better than Inverness and Perth in most aspects other than post-war planning decisions.
Gandalf the Pink
#12 Posted by Gandalf the Pink on 3 May 2019 at 16:01 PM
Having a whisky museum in Edinburgh isn't a slight against Kilmarnock, it's a business decision made by a multinational corporation on the hunt to maximise income. Kilmarnock probably never crossed their minds.
It would have been amazing for Kilmarnock to have a Johnnie Walker World - but lets face it, who is going to visit and spend their money on fairly average whisky and trinkets made in China? Tourists. Are there hoards of Chinese and American tourists walking up and down King Street in Kilmarnock looking for something to do? No. Would there be if they built Johnnie Walker World there? Possibly, but multinational corporations don't often hedge their bets when they have a sure thing on the other coast that'll no doubt rake it in.
#13 Posted by £££ on 3 May 2019 at 16:09 PM
Not sure why the debate has turned to Edinburgh vs the rest of the world (Scotland).

This move isn't driven by politicians or policies. It's a financial decision made by a business - the kind which releases a Game of Thrones bottle purely because they know people will buy it. Why wouldn't they want a flagship visitor centre in the country's most visited city? Why would they invest £XX millions in Kilmarnock to attract a fraction of the footfall? With Holryood and Leith Distillery either nearing completion or in the pipeline it's only natural for the big brands to want to move in. Yes Kilmarnock should not be forgotten as the birthplace Johnnie Walker, and is naturally deserving of investment - but this is business.

How much of the £5.5 billion which whisky contributes to the Scottish economy is generated in Edinburgh? Is there really any policy which would realistically distribute the wealth of one city to farthest corners of a country!?

Also, where is the architectural debate on this proposal - retention of a prominent building for a use which isn't another soulless retail store? To what extent is this going to draw footfall in the opposite direction from the mega-turd footfall magnet at the other end the city. At the street level how will the new use contribute to what is a rather bland area?
#14 Posted by Cadmonkey on 3 May 2019 at 18:31 PM
Come on, think of the big picture here.
I think it’s fair to say this will directly benefit Kilmarnock hugely by helping to raise the presence of the Johnny Walker brand and secure jobs.
If the attraction was in Kilmarnock large enough numbers of tourists simply wouldn’t go there to sustain it.
It’s rather naive to not realise this.
Passer by
#15 Posted by Passer by on 3 May 2019 at 21:32 PM
I wonder if the comments section is infected by nincompoops and dullards who really don't understand tourists and have no passport!! If you want to draw tourists you drop a bean and if they follow it you can understand how popular it is then consider a local devekolment. But as for FBOT he might as well be writing in Swahili for all its relevance!
#16 Posted by Dullard on 4 May 2019 at 11:01 AM
#15 - FBOT has a point, though, which has to be raised repeatedly - the tourist monster of inauthenticity and globalised disneylandification of culture, which is wholly open to unchecked mis-appropriation by multinational conglomerates in pursuit of the mighty tourist dollah. But at what lasting cost to our lives, our built environment, our society?
Has this anything to do with architecture? Not particularly, but is perhaps symptomatic of a continuing devaluation of civic life in a digital age.
#17 Posted by Cadmonkey on 4 May 2019 at 18:30 PM
#16 Dullard
Not sure you would be much fun to sit opposite at a dinner party.
Just remember, you don’t have to visit it. But if you do you might surprise yourself and maybe even learn something.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#18 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 5 May 2019 at 21:40 PM
#6 -- Moscow Metro debate -- 70's / 80's

System was growing with increasing passenger numbers and although it had been built on a grand scale congestion was starting to become an issue.

Solutions were put forward to build more hub and spoke lines to deliver capacity to the affected areas -- very mainstream.

Then came the radical alternative -- people were using these lines to make complex journeys because they were the only ones available.

The journeys were complex in systems terms but not in geographic terms so this pointed to new radial capacity that reflected the journeys people wanted to make.

At the moment when it comes to tourism -- and even in economic development terms -- Auld Reekie is the only game in town.

Holyrood is a giant vampire squid that is sucking the life out of Scotland and dumping it in Edinburgh.

The JW story is it in all its gory detail.

Tourists go to Edinburgh because that is all we sell them. We are dealing with expanding global middle class / middle income, a better tourist offer and a low pound.

So where are we -- Edinburgh overheating along with a small number of sites that have made it onto some global guide books. Consequently what we are selling we are about to waste and the rest of the country looks on wondering when it will be their turn.

10 centuries of Westminster mean that to the world London and a few day trips is England.

20 years of Holyrood means that to the world Auld Reekie and a few day trips is Scotland.

We know that is not the case but we have to tell the world and then tell them again. To make the most of the economic opportunities in tourism we need to sell the whole country to the world and that means pushing tourism investment into the regions. Auld Reekie is perfectly capable of looking after itself -- it now is self sustaining so the effort should go into the regions.

Start small but keep working at it.
The irony is that England just about understands the complexity of Scotland, Europeans with some football knowledge are getting there but for NA / SA / Russia / East and South Asia then all they have at the moment is a shortbread tin level of understanding -- consequently we need to up our game.

Fat Bloke on Tour
#19 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 5 May 2019 at 21:49 PM
SG cash / investment -- how about fixing the glazing issues at the Peoples Palace winter garden?

How about fixing all the winter gardens in all of Glasgow's parks?
diageo maradona
#20 Posted by diageo maradona on 6 May 2019 at 09:26 AM
"I think it’s fair to say this will directly benefit Kilmarnock hugely by helping to raise the presence of the Johnny Walker brand and secure jobs."

you do realise they have no presence in the town any more?
#21 Posted by CM on 6 May 2019 at 10:40 AM
#20 You could say it was, "rather naive to not realise this."
#22 Posted by Cadmonkey on 6 May 2019 at 12:09 PM
I didn’t know that.
So why are people bleating on about Kilmarnock?
Broken windaes
#23 Posted by Broken windaes on 6 May 2019 at 13:14 PM
#19FBOT....why? Would the millions spent fixing the windows suddenly draw people/tourists from all over? You lead such a sheltered academic life!
#24 Posted by Dullard on 6 May 2019 at 13:47 PM
#17 - Thank you for your comment and opinion shared, but tell you what, I think I'll just decline the offer and say, 'No Thanks', - now there's something that you should at least be capable of understanding.
The ghost of Leonid Brezhnev
#25 Posted by The ghost of Leonid Brezhnev on 6 May 2019 at 13:54 PM
#18 - thanks FBOT for that explanation. I get the gist of the idea, - of course Moscow being a radial city. And yes, putting all your eggs in one basket was never a good idea.
the thin end of a fat wedge
#26 Posted by the thin end of a fat wedge on 6 May 2019 at 19:30 PM
as if right on cue...what lies further down the line for Edinburgh (if it hasn't arrived here already)
Fat Bloke on Tour
#27 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 6 May 2019 at 22:46 PM
The Dutch are quite some way ahead of us when it comes to tourism and the downside of tourism.

Can the Scottish economy afford to turn away visitors or do we try and learn our lessons early and shape our offer where appropriate and let the private sector take the lead in other areas?

If we are to be serious on this issue we will soon see how mature politically we are at the moment -- selective tourist tax to guide visitors away from the potential hotspots that are in danger of being over developed?

Would the money stay in the areas where it was raised or would it be spent in other areas to develop their facilities and expand their offering?

Would a 50/50 split be acceptable?

Would the Auld Reekie tourist barons be happy to support the tourist offering in Ayrshire?

Edinburgh and environs:
15K rooms @ £10 per night / 80% occupancy?
Looking at £40mill plus pa?

Would this make a difference?

Is it worth the potential uncivil war when the letters page in the Hootsman goes into full Weegie hate mode?

#28 Posted by George on 7 May 2019 at 07:24 AM
It makes commercial sense to have this Visitor Experience in Edinburgh who probably have more tourists in a week than Kilmarnock have in a year.

However I do agree with #4 that it feels like the Scottish Government are definitely more Edinburgh-centric to the detriment of everywhere else. No rail link for Glasgow Airport but no problem to run trams to Edinburgh Airport, a national film studio - lets give that to Edinburgh, giant new shopping centre whilst the Buchanan Galleries extension is cancelled and so the list goes on...
Walt Disney
#29 Posted by Walt Disney on 7 May 2019 at 14:00 PM
Johnnie Walker is the world's best selling whisky....but most Scots wouldn't use it to clean their brake disks. It makes sense to have the 'experience' in our No 1 tourist destination rather than hard up Scottish town.
Looking on the bright side, Kilmarnock may have lost Johnnie Walker but the building was converted into the wonderful council offices. I've honestly never seen so many people wearing pyjamas and ugg boots in the middle of the day. Great place for a planning meeting!
#30 Posted by Cadmonkey on 8 May 2019 at 00:45 AM
Just stop it.
I’ve had my prawn cocktail starter.
I’d like to enjoy my beef wellington.
So you think we need (maybe even must have) a Scottish Tourist Tax Referendum?
Or do we just accept Edinburgh and Glasgow are indeed better Scottish places to visit (they obviously are) than the rest and therefore those major councils can do as they wish without other external Scottish whingeing.
Pass the stilton and port please.

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