An ambitious £1.5million plan to revamp Inverness’ Victorian Market into a 21st century visitor experience – to include late-night shopping and eating – is to go before city councillors this week.
The vision for the historic Market Hall and Fish Hall part of the centre would see the initial removal of the existing 23 shop units for complete renovation.
The work would then make way for an open-plan mezzanine floor with a reduced 15 units around the edges, leaving a central public area providing spectacular views of the dramatic Victorian roof, seating for the public, restaurants and cafes, and space for live entertainment and workshops.
The 19th century-built centre would remain 10pm, under the proposal.
Discussions with current tenants are continuing in relation to interim arrangements if the works go ahead, but Highland Council’s city area manager David Haas said there was huge support for change within the market to increase footfall and make it “the central point of the city”.
The move has also been welcomed by business, tourism and political leaders in the Highlands who want to attract visitors into the old part of the city and draw business back into the centre from outer retail parks.
However, the £1.5m development must still be given the go-ahead by councillors at the city area committee on Thursday before progressing.
The redevelopment of the Market Hall and the Fish Hall has been agreed by the Victorian Market Stakeholders – which includes Inverness Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and Business Improvement District – as their priority project.
Mr Haas, a member of the market stakeholder group, wants the market, owned by the Inverness Common Good Fund and managed by the local authority, to become “the first choice for tourists and locals to visit” when in the Highland capital.
He added the idea was to create “a modern open market with the capability of being able to have later opening hours”.
Mr Haas said: “The centre has suffered in recent years from visitor numbers and the number of units being let out, but this is a chance to bring it into the 21st century and compete against indoor markets across Europe.
“A new market manager – Jo Murray – has also been appointed to drive forward improvements and work closely with existing market traders.
“This is an opportunity to make the market a focal point and first port of call before exploring the rest of the city.
“The hall will be stripped right back and renovated, with bigger units and more space outside. One of the things that needs to be fixed is the opening hours.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “This is a move in the right direction – to bring trade and visitors back to the city centre.
“We are excited by these positive plans as the market was and should be a gateway to the city.”
David Richardson, of the Highlands and Islands Federation of Small Businesses, added: “The Victorian Market is a historic building and should be the heart of Inverness, but has languished over the years.
“This will restore it to its former glory and be an asset to the city and make it a place for people to spend money.”
Inverness city councillor Bet McAllister said: “We should strive for a strong daytime and evening economy. To have more seating and eating areas in the evening will be a huge attraction.
“You see tourists wandering around the city at the moment looking for interesting places to go, but with little option. This should provide an alternative where shows, concerts and talks could take place while people enjoy meals and drinks.”