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One of the key features of the bid being made for Inverness and the Highlands to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008 should be an exciting plan to create a £20 million Cultural Complex to serve the area.

This was the vision laid out yesterday by Eden Court Theatre Director, Colin Marr, to the judging panel for the competition. The panel, chaired by Sir Jeremy Isaacs, were in Inverness for the day as part of their assessment of the Bid.

Mr Marr told the eight panel members that a riverside location in Inverness – near Eden Court Theatre – would be an ideal site for an architecturally striking and significant new building, which would be an attraction in itself.

Such a development would be part of the Bid’s proposal to create a Cultural Quarter in the city, to be developed between 2004-2007 – following the completion of a £6.5 million extension to Eden Court Theatre.

The new building would be part of a major riverside development, already part of the Inverness local plan, which would also see the Castle transformed into a tourism and cultural base.

The panel seemed impressed as Mr Marr suggested the new building – a cultural complex - could house many of the facilities people in the city have wanted for years:-

  • the Highlands’ permanent art collection and visiting exhibitions;
  • museum;
  • genealogy centre;
  • conference facilities for up to 600 (which can be used as performance or cinema space) and conference exhibition space
  • office accommodation for creative businesses.

Colin Marr said: "The Bid brought in over 2,000 great ideas and many of them concerned creating facilities like these in the heart of Inverness. This Bid is about being bold and imaginative and I think we should be prepared to think ambitiously about what we want to see."

He added: "For instance the Bishop’s Palace Car Park could be opened up and the area in front of all three buildings would be landscaped down to the river. A sculpture trail could encourage migration beyond the complex to the Ness Islands. A city square would be created near the Cathedral to become the natural public focus for Inverness."

The panel were aware the Cultural Quarter proposal is a prominent feature of the bid which has been tendered by Inverness Highland 2008, the company promoting the Bid for the area to become European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Competition comes from Belfast, Bradford, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Canterbury and East Kent, Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle and Gateshead, Norwich and Oxford.

The Bid document outlined that the best way to progress the Cultural Quarter idea is through a wide-ranging feasibility study into the potential of the riverside development – an area that would extend to both sides for the River Ness including the Castle, Eden Court Theatre and the Cathedral.

David Green, Chairman of the 2008 Bid, endorsed the ambition of the idea: "The Cultural Quarter is a place that could inspire creativity and inspiration that would lead to the regeneration of the Riverside of Inverness and ultimately contribute to the growth and status of Inverness and the Highlands as a whole.

"It’s important we show the confidence we have in our own area and our own abilities. I think Sir Jeremy and the panel recognised that and hopefully, through a successful Bid, we will be able to turn many of these ambitions into reality."