One of the Highland capital’s most historic streets is poised for a massive revamp thanks to a £1.5million lottery grant.
The windfall will be added to funding from the local authority and Historic Scotland to provide a £3million pot of cash to breathe new life into Academy Street.
The once-bustling heart of the city’s commercial district has faded from its former glory and become an eyesore.
Footfall has plunged, businesses have been forced to close – and a huge fire earlier this year left one of its most prominent buildings clad in scaffolding and part of the road closed to traffic.
The hope is that the lottery grant for the Townscape Heritage Project – announced in the week The Press and Journal opened a major debate on the decline of high streets across the north and north-east – will kick-start moves to give Academy Street a new lease of life.
Businesses will now be invited to bid for cash to facelift their dilapidated properties, including some of the city’s most historic buildings.
They include the AI Welders building, which is acclaimed for its mosaics of the city’s industrial past.
The funding boost was welcomed last night by civic leaders, who said it would bring more visitors and employment to the area.
Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael said: “It is not just about restoring historic buildings, but also about bringing investment, jobs and visitors to this part of the city and restoring a sense of place.
“I look forward to seeing work on the ground start.”
Chairman of the Inverness City Heritage Trust, Councillor Jimmy Gray, said: “This is great news for Inverness and reinforces the hard work the trust has done in the city centre over the last decade and focuses our joint resources on Academy Street.”
Inverness Business Improvement District manager, Mike Smith, said: “We very much welcome this award to start the regeneration of Academy Street.
“This is such an important gateway to the city centre for visitors and locals alike from bus station, railway and car parks. It needs to be developed to reflect this.”
Top of the priority list for action is the AI Welders building, which has been neglected for several years and there are fears the artwork could be lost if urgent action is not taken.
The Cairngorm Brewery bought the building last year and has plans to renovate and restore it.
A second priority is Station Square and some of the buildings which overlook it. One of the aims is to improve the look of the area for tourists arriving by train.
But there are also plans to revamp shop fronts and the main entrance to the Victorian Market, as well as business training for store owners and geography, history and art projects for local schools.
Chairman of the Townscape Steering Group, Councillor Richard Laird, said: “This is the most exciting development in the city centre for a number of years.
“People have been crying out for work to be done to restore the iconic buildings so now the preparation work is done, as soon as we receive all the paperwork we can start to get work on the ground going.”
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: “As more investment has gone into the city centre, along the riverside and the streetscaping, the fact that nothing has happened on Academy Street for two decades is becoming more obvious.
“Work is desperately needed and this funding is fantastic.”
To add to the lottery money, Highland Council has contributed £725,000 and £946,000 will come from Historic Scotland.
Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland, said: “HLF is delighted to support Inverness in its ambitions to give the historic character of Academy Street a new lease of life.
“The regeneration of town centres is an obvious way in which we as an organisation can make an important contribution to improving the economy of an area and the standard of living for the people resident there.
“Investing National Lottery money to revitalise this historic street will not only make it a more attractive place to live, visit and invest in, it will also provides jobs and training opportunities for local people.”