Council bosses are ramping up efforts to transform empty eyesore buildings into homes and restaurants to kickstart the centre of Elgin.
The town has lost the likes of Clarks, Burton, Game and Edinburgh Woollen Mill during the pandemic’s financial storm.
Before Covid, Elgin had a 6.8% vacancy rate in the centre – nearly half the Scottish average at the time of 12.9%.
Efforts to fill smaller vacancies have been successful but the big empty units have proved hard to shift.
What are the five key buildings?
Officials have identified vacant buildings for potential redevelopment as part of the council’s draft masterplan to regenerate Elgin town centre.
A key part of the plan is the creation of at least 50 new town centre homes, a move it’s hoped could signal the start of a new evening economy.
There are plans to implement a mixed-use redevelopment of properties at the former Victorian Market by 2026.
This project includes the former Junners toy shop that shut down in January 2016 after 116 years of trading.
The South Street shop remains on the market after repeated unsuccessful attempts to sell at auction.
Now officials believe the shop provides a potential opportunity for a food and drink courtyard and flats.
One of Moray’s most challenging derelict sites
Bosses are also thinking of redeveloping the Jailhouse nightclub site.
The building has been vacant since a fire burned it down about 20 years ago.
Now it is one of Moray’s most challenging derelict sites, hidden from view behind an archway on the High Street.
The former Gordon Arms Hotel has been earmarked for potential new housing or a hotel.
While the Grant Lodge will be transformed into a high-quality food and drink heritage visitor experience.
The building in Cooper Park has been boarded up for 17 years after a blaze started in the building’s basement before reaching the upper floors.
The Poundland building on the High Street could also be used as a mixed-use development.
There are efforts there to “improve negative perceptions of the street due to the imposing nature of the building that aligns it”.
Our mission is to prevent Elgin from becoming a ‘ghost town’
Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter believes more people staying in the town centre can prevent Elgin from becoming a “ghost town”.
He said: “The pandemic has accelerated a trend in our High Streets and town centres towards smaller units and a need for more residential accommodation.
“The masterplan highlights that issue with examples of what will improve our town centre and adjust to consumers’ demands.
“We want to create places where people live, work and play or we will become a ghost town at night.
“It is about enabling developers to come up with plans for smaller units to bring life back to the town centre.”
‘The Elgin centre is dead at five o’clock’
Strategic planning and development manager Gary Templeton is leading work on the masterplan.
He said: “Even before Covid the town centre was under so much pressure with the changing nature of online retail and pressures to try to increase footfall.
“Town centre accommodation will help create an evening economy and increase all day round activity.
“Everyone comments the Elgin centre is dead at five o’clock which we can all recognise and we want to change that.
Even before Covid the town centre was under so much pressure.”
“The former Jailhouse nightclub is somewhere that many people don’t realise is one of Moray’s worst eyesores.
“At the Junners toy shop we are thinking about potential café, housing and restaurant uses which would be a coup.
“The Victorian Market is a potential site for a business enterprise hub included in the Moray Growth Deal.”
In the past, residents have heard similar plans which never came to life.
Mr Templeton said that investment from the Moray Growth Deal and Covid recovery opening up funding opportunities will help fund the masterplan.
You can have your say on these plans here.