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Last waltz for old dance venue

One of Edinburgh's most famous former dance halls faces the prospect of being bulldozed after bosses of the bingo hall which occupies it announced plans to move out.

The Mecca Palais at Fountainbridge is expected to make way for houses and shops overlooking the Lochrin Basin.

A mixture of upmarket flats and affordable housing, business units and waterside cafes and restaurants are being touted for the site, as is an extension of the canal.

The bingo hall, formerly the Palais de Danse, is to be replaced by a modern version at the nearby Fountainpark leisure complex.

The Rank Group, which owns the building, is understood to have shelved plans to create a new bingo hall on the site after already having had one bid turned down by the city council.

The building has been a landmark in the area since opening in 1921 and was famous for its revolving stage which allowed two bands to play in unison and change over without the audience having to endure a break.

It remained a hugely popular fixture in the city's social scene, attracting royals like Prince George and the Prince of Wales, as well as a young Sean Connery - until 1967, when it was closed down for refurbishment.

However, it never reopened because of apparent structural problems in the building and until, several years later, it was brought back to life as a bingo hall.

Insiders believe the hall has struggled to attract business since a car park behind the building was redeveloped several years ago.

Mecca's revamp plans included 100-space underground car park but council planners were unhappy with the firm's designs, particularly relating to the creation of shop and cafe units at the canal basin.

It is thought the site will be put on the market within months, during which time the bingo hall is expected to close down and the new one open its doors.

The new facility - billed by the company as "a million miles away from how bingo used to be" is expected to be targeted at a younger market in a bid to cash in on its location at Fountainpark, which boasts a multiplex cinema, a health club, bars and restaurants. Plans are also being drawn up for a giant casino at FountainPark - on the site of former nightspot, Eros/Elite.

Edinburgh Quay Limited, the developer of the waterside offices, homes, bar and restaurant complex at Lochrin Basin, is understood to have been in talks with Mecca about selling up.

The site on which the bingo hall sits is of major importance to the city because it sits at the very end of the Millennium Link, the flagship canal scheme connecting Edinburgh with Glasgow.

A number of sites in the area, including a former Arnold Clark garage, the old Tartan Club at the Scottish and Newcastle plant, and the brewery site itself, which was closed down by the firm last summer, are set to be redeveloped.

A key aim of the council is to extend the canal basin wherever possible by creating new moorings for boats, as well as create a new public through route between Tollcross and Fountainbridge.

Local councillor Lorna Shiels said: "The council has been trying to encourage Mecca to relocate to Fountainpark for some time.

"We think the new location will be perfect for them and it will also be great news for the area that the site will soon be up for grabs.

"The old building looks like a huge Anderson Shelter, especially from the offices and flats above, and it's a real eyesore.

"The redevelopment of the site presents a huge opportunity for the city and it will be very important that we get it right because it's right at the end of the Millennium Link."

A spokeswoman for Mecca said: "We will be relocating our bingo club at the Palais to a new development at Fountainpark within the next few months.

"Mecca Bingo Fountainpark will be a state-of-the-art, fully electronic bingo club, the first of its kind in the UK.

"The new club is an exciting milestone for Mecca Bingo as well as the bingo industry as a whole."

Source: Brian Ferguson, City Council Reporter, Evening News,
1st February, 2006

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