The heart of Inverness is poised for a multi-million pound transformation in the coming months that will bring a “significant” jobs boom.
Fresh plans have been lodged to revamp the city’s Eastgate Centre by Falcon Square – including four restaurants and a kiosk – and the hope is to start work by the end of the year in time for an Easter opening.
But the proposals will no longer involve building a ground level extension into Falcon Square or rooftop bar, as previously suggested. The new application has also been changed to attract a wider range of restaurants including those with takeaway options.
It comes as Abellio ScotRail Ltd confirmed it is now seeking a contractor for the £6 million upgrade of Inverness railway station to enhance the visitor experience there.
Eastgate Centre manager, Jackie Cuddy, says she hopes a pedestrianised walkway could link the train station to the new restaurants, similar to Aberdeen’s Union Square, although this is not currently part of the plans.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Stewart Nicol, said the developments were “fantastic news” for the city which he says is attracting more tourists all year round, adding: “There will now be more opportunities right in the heart of the city and the station development is something we have been waiting on for years.
“We have a got a high demand for jobs across the city and so this (the Eastgate revamp) is very positive for that reason as well.”
Previous proposals for the Eastgate were for five restaurants – including American chain Smashburger and pizza and pasta specialists Wildwood – which would involve a ground level extension into Falcon Square.
It is not known if these two chains are still involved in discussions with the centre’s owners, Scoop Asset Management.
Eastgate Centre manager Jackie Cuddy said the high-end restaurant market has “imploded”, which is why they have changed the application to attract a wider range of operators.
She remained tight-lipped about job numbers but revealed they are in “serious” discussions with two operators, and that the restaurants would provide a sit-in evening dining experience.
She added: “There will be a significant number of jobs created.
“We would like to be on site by the end of the year. In an ideal world we would like to have the restaurants open by Easter next year.”
Ms Cuddy said a building warrant has also been submitted for the development, meaning construction could be imminent.
A design statement submitted with the plans shows that much of the existing shopping centre’s exterior will stay the same but the restaurants would have new glazed frontages.
Ms Cuddy also said the owners are still committed to a reconfiguration of the food court inside the Eastgate and are in talks with operators about this.
It is hoped some work on the food court will begin alongside the building of the new restaurants going in the Eastgate by Falcon Square.
Crown and City Centre Community Council chairwoman, Pat Hayden, said she is “disappointed” the proposed restaurants would no longer form part of an extension into Falcon Square but added: “If these four places do very well they may wish to expand in the future. We just want to see more activity in the evening in Inverness to keep people here, so I am all in favour of that.
“It’s going to improve Inverness. When people arrive at the station they will have a much better first impression.”
A ScotRail spokesman confirmed yesterday that the procurement process has started for the work at the train station.
September 17 is listed as the deadline for tenders to respond.
A more “dominant” station frontage, redeveloping of the main concourse and retail units, enhanced environment on Academy Street and improved links to Falcon Square and the bus station, will form key parts of the £6 million upgrade.
A new ticket office and waiting room will also be included and the Strothers Lane entrance will be enhanced and new CCTV lighting will be installed.
The spokesman said it is an “exciting time” for the Highlands with major improvements to the station and the arrival of upgraded Intercity express trains, due to come to the Highlands next year.
He added: “The investment we are making will improve the service we offer to our customers and support the local economy.”
Design work also started in May to create a possible rail and bus interchange in the Highland capital. The idea was sparked by Royal Mail’s announcement of their £6.6 million plans to relocate its Highland sorting office from Strothers Lane to another city site in Seafield Road, freeing up the existing site for future use.