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Plans submitted for Johnnie Walker centre in Edinburgh

Diageo has moved a step closer to building a seven-floor visitor centre for Johnnie Walker after submitting a planning application to the City of Edinburgh Council.

An artist’s impression of the seven-floor Johnnie Walker visitor experience at 146 Princes Street, Edinburgh

The UK drinks giant first announced plans to build a new ‘state-of-the-art’ Johnnie Walker experience in April last year as part of a £150 million (US$215m) investment into its Scotch whisky visitor centres.

The new Edinburgh site at 146 Princes Street will be the “focal point” of the company’s investment. The project is estimated to create between 160 and 180 full-time jobs, and generate in the region of £135m (US$173.5m) in tourism spend for Edinburgh’s economy.

It will be “directly linked” to four distilleries representing the “four corners of Scotland” and Scotch whisky’s regional flavour profiles: Glenkinchie (Lowlands), Cardhu (Speyside), Caol Ila (Island) and Clynelish (Highlands). The connection will create a “Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland” to encourage tourists to travel to Edinburgh and other rural Scottish locations.

David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said: “The location is one of Edinburgh’s most exceptional landmark buildings and we plan to restore it to its former glory as a cornerstone of the city and a thriving part of its cultural and social life.

“We have the most passionate and skilled whisky-makers in the world here in Scotland and we want to celebrate their craft and everything that is great about Scotland and whisky.”

Diageo and building owner Parabola jointly submitted the planning application for a seven-floor visitor experience.

Plans for the landmark building, the former site of department store House of Fraser, include the restoration of the site’s heritage features where possible, which will be integrated into the new development.

The “multi-sensory, immersive” experience will occupy three floors of the site, taking visitors through the 200-year history of the brand, the art and science of whisky-making and a journey through the flavours of Scotland.

In addition to the visitor experience, the space will feature rooftop bars and a “flexible” events space for music, theatre, arts and community events.

The venue will include a bar academy that will house Diageo’s Learning for Life programme. The programme will create training and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry for unemployed people, and aim to improve hospitality standards and promote responsible alcohol use.

The site will also include a “significant” retail space on the ground floor, inspired by the Johnnie Walker experiential flagship store in Madrid.

The iconic clock on the corner of Princes Street and Hope Street will also be restored.

Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo global Scotch whisky director, said: “Our ambition is to create a visitor experience that will rank not only as one of the greatest whisky attractions of the world, but one of the greatest brand attractions in any industry, putting Scotland at the forefront of the global boom in experiential travel.”

The investment has been pledged in addition to Diageo’s £35m (US$44.9m) project to bring Port Ellen and Brora back into production. Both distilleries will also feature visitor centres.

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