Fringe venue listed for sale sparks fears for future of Summerhall

Summerhall, one of Edinburgh’s best known Fringe venues, was listed on the open market on Tuesday.

Fringe venue listed for sale sparks fears for future of Summerhall in Edinburgh Google Maps

A petition to “preserve Summerhall as a cultural hub in Edinburgh” has garnered thousands of signatures after concerns were raised when the venue was listed for sale.

Summerhall, one of Edinburgh’s best known Fringe venues, was listed on the open market on Tuesday.

The former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies was turned into an arts hub in 2011, with more than 100 artists, small businesses and companies operating from the venue.

Cuthbert White, the estate agent which listed the building, suggested possible redevelopment for the site which included boutique hotels and student housing.

A petition, citing “deep concern” for the future of Summerhall, has received more than 6,000 signatures, including that of author Sir Ian Rankin.

The petition read: “We are deeply concerned about the potential sale of Summerhall, a vital cultural institution in our city. Since its transformation from the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in 2011, Summerhall has been a thriving multi-arts venue, hosting over 110 companies, galleries, studios, and community spaces.

“We oppose any plans to convert Summerhall into apartments or student flats, as such a move would not only strip away a crucial cultural asset but also diminish the unique character of our community.

“We urge the current owners and potential buyers to explore alternative solutions that preserve Summerhall’s role as a hub for creativity, innovation, and community engagement. Whether through community ownership, partnerships with cultural organisations, or other innovative approaches, we believe there are viable alternatives that can ensure Summerhall’s continued success.”

Robert McDowell, the founder and director of Summerhall, said the sale was going ahead “against his wishes”.

In a comment on Wednesday, he said: “When much else in life is uncertain and filled with warring, when the healing balms of the arts are in highest demand, it is troubling for much-loved, dare I say famous, Summerhall to go through the property market wringer!  

“Against my personal wishes, a majority of the shareholders voted to put the premises up for sale.

“My hope is that we come through this intact and able to continue as before, perhaps even better? We proved ourselves a valuable part of what makes Edinburgh a great city and fully international. We are honoured that there is so much love and support, let us hope for the best.”

Summerhall Management chief executive, Sam Gough, said they were “committed to the long-term survival” of the venue.

He added: “The building is being sold with leases intact so over 100 plus artists, small businesses and companies that work out of Summerhall will remain.

“Our annual programme of events and the Fringe in 2024 will not be affected.

“We look forward to working with the agent and any potential new owners to ensure the arts are front and centre of any decisions that may be made in the future for this now iconic arts campus.”

Edinburgh East MSP Tommy Sheppard also wrote to council leaders urging them to “use it’s powers to create a Summerhall masterplan”.

He added: “Working with stakeholders, plans could protect Summerhall as a hub of the arts in Edinburgh through any sale of the site & for decades to come.”

In a letter to Edinburgh Council leader Cammy Day, he wrote: “It provides some comfort that the building is being sold with these leases in place as it will prevent the wholesale redevelopment of the site, but it doesn’t guarantee Summerhall’s future as a centre of the arts in Edinburgh in years to come.

“I believe that the council should now step in and take a pro-active approach, rather than potentially waiting to consider prospective applications in a piecemeal way. It is essential that a long term masterplan is developed for the site and I would ask you to convene a group of senior officials with planning, cultural, and economic development expertise to begin the process of putting together such a plan with stakeholders and in consultation with the public. The group should marshal all the local authority’s existing powers to prevent the sale and development of parts of the site which are incompatible with its overall purpose.”

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