The City of Edinburgh Council will be remarketing the Royal High School site after plans to transform it into a Rosewood hotel were rejected twice and the operator pulled out.
The luxury hotel plans for the historic A-listed property have been in the making for the last 11 years and following a recent report from the Scottish government clarifying an issue with the scale of the plans, it was hoped the project could forge ahead with minor adjustments. Other than the size of the project, the report otherwise described the architectural plans as "exemplary", and said the hotel would contribute to the economy of the city and region, and that it would "ensure repair, reinstatement and protection" of the building.
Duddingston House Properties (DHP) and Urbanist Hotels had sought a two- to three-year extension of their contract with the council, which owns the building, to adjust the proposals and obtain planning consent. The contract required them to deliver a hotel of no less than 120 bedrooms by 2022, and they had said original plans for a 147-bedroom property, later scaled down to 127, could be further scaled down to 75 in light of the report, if the council would agree to amending the contract.
In documents seen by The Caterer, the groups argued: "We know that in this post-Covid world, whilst we might have lost Rosewood we will be able to secure a fundable globally recognised five-star boutique hotel delivering exceptional jobs and public access with a much reduced scale of hotel of around 75 bedrooms. In addition, we are seeking a reasonable extension to the timescale required for delivering a revised proposal."
The site has lain derelict for the last 52 years following the relocation of the school in 1968. DHP and Urbanist have invested £4.8m in the project to date, much of which has been to advance the heritage understanding and appreciation of the building.
A coalition of objectors to the scheme made up of the Cockburn Association, New Town & Broughton Community Council and Edinburgh World Heritage argued the development would cause "serious harm" to the site and building and has lobbied for the venue to be reinstated as a school for use by St Mary's Music School, although the recent report said the hotel project would "better preserve" the property.
The former boys' school on opened in 1829, was designed by Thomas Hamilton, and is one of Edinburgh's most distinctive landmarks. DHP was granted a conditional ground lease for 125 years to develop the building as a luxury hotel.
David Orr co-founded and is chair of the Urbanist Group, leading a group of institutional investors to fund the project. He is also chief executive of Resident Hotels and was founder and formerly chief executive of Mint Hotels, which was sold in 2011 to private equity company the Blackstone Group.
Speaking to The Caterer ahead of the decision, he said the proposals were rejected "really only on the grounds of scale", and that: "they liked the architecture, they liked the fact that we did not damage the buildings, and they liked the public access."
He also highlighted the importance of "progressive hospitality as an employer, for social cohesion, positive training, development, careers, as a stepping stone".
At the time, he said: "We're disappointed to lose Rosewood, absolutely, but we still think that we could create something viable and accessible and completely in line with the recommendations of the reports."
Urbanist Group declined to comment following the council's decision yesterday.
Photo credit: Maccoinnich, Wikipedia
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