Virtual Site Visit
Edinburgh St James, 9 September 2020

In another COVID-inspired innovation for the Society, Nuveen Real Estate kindly hosted the first SPR virtual site visit.   Martin Perry, Nuveen’s Director of Development for Europe gave an evocative presentation of the ground-breaking new Edinburgh St James retail/mixed use project, which looks set to transform the city’s retail offer when it opens next spring.  The SPR rarely holds site visits outside London, so the event also gave members the chance to gain some insights into a different metropolitan market.

Martin explained that Edinburgh St James covers seven acres in the heart of the city centre, close to Princes and St George’s Streets and is surrounded by historic buildings, some of which are integrated into the project.  The development consists of five floors of shopping, dining, leisure, entertainment, hotel and apartment space that have effectively been built into a granite hillside, with the aim of enhancing the city centre ‘physically, culturally and socially’.

One of the most visually striking elements of the scheme is the ultra-modern hotel structure at its centre, which is somewhat reminiscent on London’s City Hall.  The hotel will be part of the W brand run by Marriott, which Martin described as aimed at the wealthy young international traveller.  Another part of the 244-room hotel will be housed in one of the repurposed 18th century terraces.

Edinburgh is already a highly successful tourist destination, but the presentation emphasised that its retail offer is currently constrained the format of space available, so that many leading retailers have not been able to find suitable premises.  This is a need that Edinburgh St James seeks to meet, potentially becoming one of the UK’s top-ten retail schemes.  Martin explained how Nuveen’s City Megatrends research has underpinned the development, with Edinburgh rating very highly for its quality of life and education, two factors that are seen as critical in creating buoyant real estate market prospects.  The city is also unique for its number of festivals.  One of these, the Edinburgh Fringe, is the second most ticketed event in the world, next to the Olympics.

Clearly the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted preparations for the scheme’s opening. Martin noted that construction virtually ceased for three months during the most severe phase of the lockdown, meaning that activity is now intense given the need to catch up in time for opening in April 2021.  Nevertheless, advance leasing of the retail space has clearly progressed well, with anchor tenants including Zara and John Lewis in place, and only a few units remaining to be let.

Tim Horsey