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Oct 06, 2021

St James Quarter Development Spotlight

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Major investment in Edinburgh’s built environment is transforming the city’s skyline and creating vibrant new neighbourhoods. The St James Quarter development brings premium retail, leisure, hospitality and residential to the east whilst enhancing connection within the city centre.

G&T partners, Lynne Stewart and Marco Ielpi, share their personal insights on the first phase of this ambitious £1bn project.

You’ve both been involved in the project for over six years. Can you explain a bit about your role?

Marco (MI): I’m the overall cost management project partner and commercial lead, overseeing the development. I manage a team of cost managers who are each responsible for various project elements including the redevelopment of the historic buildings on the site.

Lynne (LS): I’ve been based within the client project office for the last six years as part of the Employer’s Agent team. My specific role for the last four years has been heading up the Retail Delivery team, managing the tenants within the galleria and the historic buildings including John Lewis & Partners, the Everyman cinema and the retail and F&B tenants.

I manage a team of five retail delivery managers who are responsible for guiding tenants through the retail delivery process, from very early engagement through the technical and legal negotiation stages and onto site fit-out and beyond. Working with Marco to manage the cost aspect of any tenant-led changes and build these costs into the business case for each deal is another important aspect of the role.

Gardiner & Theobald - St James Q N23 Medium

© Craig Auckland / Fotohaus

The retail landscape has been changing for a long time, however the pandemic seems to have sped this shift up considerably. How does the scheme address this shift in retailers and F&B tenant requirements?

LS: Flexibility has been so important. The scheme was originally designed nine years ago and has evolved through the detailed design process to reflect emerging trading requirements, the shift in the last couple of years as a result of online shopping, the retail climate generally and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we have reviewed and adapted spaces to fit tenant requirements today and to future proof.

MI: Both as a result of COVID-19 and the wider market we’ve adapted and ensured flexibility in the space, future proofing it for changing use. This can affect cost but flexibility is important.

As retail specialists you have both led major developments throughout the UK. What makes this project unique?

MI: I’ve become professionally and personally invested in the project over the last six years and feel privileged to be part of such a landmark development in Scotland. What the team has created is in complete contrast to what was there before.

I believe the new offering will transform retail within the city and create a go-to destination in Edinburgh. The number of uses being provided in this vertically stacked development makes it feel like a series of projects that roll into one. It really is unique.

Gardiner & Theobald - Lynne Stewart Web
"We’re bringing brands to Edinburgh that have never been in the city before from smaller independent tenants to international brands. I find this really exciting."

Lynne Stewart

G&T Partner

MI: The Development Director, Martin Perry, is a former architect who has set high design standards. Our design team meetings focussed on tenant design and he has personally signed off every tenant shop front.

LS: Ensuring tenants designed in accordance with the client aspirations was hugely important. We’ve had success in encouraging tenants to push their design boundaries above their standard shop front and fit-out to deliver a ‘best in class’ design. In the current trading and economic climate this has been very challenging but it has certainly been worth it.

What’s next for you now that Phase 1 is complete?

MI: The residential element and the W hotel, which is the jewel in the crown of this project, are still ongoing. The hotel fit-out is currently being tendered and due to complete in 2023. The cinema and aparthotel are also underway with fit-out rolling on to 2022. I’ll be kept busy for another few years.

LS: Because retail requirements have changed so much over the last few years my focus will shift to amending some of the remaining space to deliver what tenants are looking for in future. This includes more units allocated to competitive socialising and leisure uses.

What do you consider to be the wow factor of the project?

LS: The lowest point to the highest is 15-storeys and the coordination and interlinked streetscape makes it special. The development will be revealed in stages over the next couple of years, which I am sure won't diminish from the wow factor as it will be truly incredible when the whole site is complete. In the meantime I hope visitors appreciate that they will see something new every time they come.

Gardiner & Theobald - Marco Ielpi
"I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to deliver such a special project. The brief from the client was to design the best rooftop terrace in Europe so the views looking out to the Forth Estuary and back towards the castle will be unrivalled in Edinburgh and the facility itself will be spectacular."

Marco Ielpi

G&T Partner

MI: There are several wow factors I can think of. The glass roof has a luminous scarf around it that will light up in all directions. During the Fringe, festival events will be held in the squares and the infrastructure we’ve provided for this use is truly world class. Another wow factor is the W hotel.

LS: We’ve created a street that I think will very quickly become a normal part of the thoroughfare connecting east to west. The site used to be dark, introverted and not fit for purpose in today's retail environment. It’s now open and invites the rest of the city in. There’s a roof on the development but it's largely open air and the ability to walk through it in so many directions and at so many levels means that you can see it from everywhere and you can see everywhere from it.

Over the next 18 months further retail, restaurants and bars, the W Edinburgh hotel, a boutique Everyman Cinema, a Roomzzz Aparthotel, 152 New Eidyn residential apartments, and further public space will be completed.

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