My Column

Need right Byres to keep the spirit alive.

  • Date: Monday 10th February 2020
column Picture

Last week I was sad to see three Glasgow institutions close their doors for the last time.

The Byres Road branch of Fopp, and the Iron Horse pub and Italian restaurant O Sole Mio in the city centre, are now things of the past, with the latter pair making way for a £30 million hotel development. Meanwhile Edinburgh’s Ting Thai Caravan restaurant chain is making a play for the West End site.

Don’t get me wrong, as a businessman, I’m not opposed to these new ideas. Far from it, in fact. The area around the end of West Nile Street that the Iron Horse has occupied since 1872 has been sadly left to deteriorate in recent years, with the beloved pub a rare diamond in the rough, surrounded by empty lots and boarded up windows.

It’s a far cry from the boozer’s heyday when, back when it was called The Empire Bar, it was the hostelry of choice for theatre goers and artists alike who would pile in from the nearby theatre of the same name. In fact, none other than Old Blue Eyes himself, the legendary Frank Sinatra, once dropped in for what was no doubt one of his trademark Jack Daniels on the rocks. Since then, the pub has become a basecamp for the Tartan Army, who raised a hefty sum in in one last charity drive at the pub before it closed, as well as being one of the few ‘locals’ in the city centre left, that brought in punters from all across the city.

Its neighbour O Sole Mio around the corner on Bath Street has also been forced to close to make way for the new development after an incredible 55 years in business. Glasgow’s oldest Italian restaurant is another big loss to the character of the city and is undoubtedly responsible for more than a few Glaswegians’ existence as it was the first date location of choice for generations!

There’s no denying that both of these establishments will be greatly missed not just by their regulars, but by customers who have perhaps moved on or away and are sad to see not just another part of the Dear Green Place’s cultural and commercial history disappearing.

Unfortunately, both those thriving businesses had the misfortune to be on a corner of prime real estate that has been badly neglected over the years. With no new investment, it was only a matter of time before the hammer fell and that’s exactly what’s now happened. Is it all bad news though? I’m not so sure.

For a start, there’s around 20 companies bidding for the contract to build the hotel on the site from site owners George Capital, so there’s clearly a lot of faith in the business community about its viability as a commercial prospect. Up to 100 new jobs will be created once the hotel is up and running too, not to mention all the work involved in its construction, while a hotel in such a sweet spot in the city centre will bring even more money into the town and particularly the businesses around it. Like all of us, I’m deeply sorry to see those old Glasgow institutions go, but hopefully we’ll have something worthwhile at the end of it.

But the Fopp situation is a different kettle of fish. Only a few years ago, Byres Road was a hotbed of independent retailers, with shops selling anything and everything you could ever ask for. Slowly but surely though, those traders have been replaced piecemeal by what feels like an endless stream of chain pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, so to see one of Glasgow’s most important record shops as the latest casualty is upsetting.

This is no slight to whoever takes over the site, but if high rates keep driving out retailers and destroying the character of an area at the same time, where is the incentive for people to visit that area to then need coffee shops and restaurants in the first place? It feels short-sighted in the extreme and Byres Road is suffering for it. I’m all for progress, but there has to be a benefit to the area at the same time. Otherwise, it’s not progress at all.

 

Sidebar 

Scotland’s first design museum, V&A Dundee, marked a major milestone recently as the attraction welcomed its one millionth visitor just 18 months after opening.

The V&A has been a record breaker since its launch and exceeded the high expectations from councils, government and local residents.

Developers had hoped that V&A Dundee would welcome 500,000 visitors in its first year but it surpassed that and is on to over one million already. It’s interesting to note that visitors are almost 50/50 split between locals from Dundee and Tayside, and the rest of Scotland or abroad.

It cost a whopping £80 million to build but has already generated £75 million for the economy in its first year. People predicted it would provide a £23 million boost so the £75 million figure is pretty impressive and testament to the guest experience and recognition and interest the venue has generated.   

The arrival of the waterfront museum to Dundee is already thought to have boosted the value of tourism to the local economy to a record £187million. This means that this one attraction is thought to have single-handedly caused a rise of almost 9 per cent in the space of 12 months.

It also created more than 2,000 jobs and has cemented itself as part of the cultural fabric of Dundee – I think it’s a fantastic asset that Scotland should be proud of.

It offers a world class experience and has provided a catalyst for collaborations in the visitor sector from local designers to partnerships with local hotels.

V&A Dundee has been instrumental to the city and I believe it is driving business confidence in Dundee as an international tourism destination. If only all major Scottish cities could afford a £80million brand new visitor attraction.

 

Weep 

Harrowing statistics that were released regarding homelessness in Scotland caught my attention this week. 

Figures from National Records of Scotland revealed that the number of homeless people who have died in Scotland is on the rise with 359 deaths recorded in past 2 years.

In 2018 alone there were 195 deaths recorded which meant Scotland had the highest rate of homeless deaths in the UK with a figure more than double that of England and Wales.

Glasgow and Aberdeen were among the highest recording cities and the upward trend doesn’t seem to be slowing.  This is a shocking reality for our generation and without a doubt, more should be done with organisations like Social Bite and Streetwork to combat the rise.

Laugh 

We’ve been warned about the negative effects of prolonged screen time and as a nation, we’re not spending enough time outside in the great outdoors.

But, it turns out if you try and combine the two – your chances of a road traffic accident could be massively increased.

I’m not talking about using your phone while driving – we’ve all been well warned about that – I’m talking about the increased safety risks for pedestrians walking while texting or calling.

A new study from University of Calgary revealed that pedestrians who attempt to cross roads with their eyes glued to their smartphones are more likely to be involved in accidents or road traffic near misses.

The report was published alongside proposed solutions to minimise accidents which included creating e-walking lanes or wrapping poles with padding. Personally I think looking where you’re going would be a more sensible solution.

 

Back to column listings

Recent News

News Archive