A MODERN, iconic building looking over the Esplanade and across the Forth.
That’s the vision for Kirkcaldy’s new swimming pool and leisure centre in Tolbooth Street - the first new development in the town centre not to turn its back on the sea.
The £15m project is scheduled to open in summer 2013 and is seen very much as the catalyst for regenerating the High Street - with Fife Council looking to its investment as a statement of confidence in the town centre which it hopes others will follow.
With the legal issues which caused a year-long delay now resolved, a contractor should be appointed by October, and workmen on site just weeks later.
That will mean the closure of Tolbooth Street as a car park - the core issue which sparked a campaign by local businessmen who see it as vital to the High Street’s retail trade - but, Peter Grant, leader of Fife Council, is convinced the benefits outweigh any drawbacks.
He said: I wouldn’t have stuck with this project if I thought it would damage the economy of the High street in the short-term or long-term.
‘‘I understand the concerns, but they are based on misinformation on the economic impact on the High Street.
‘‘I am absolutely convinced in return for a bit of disruption during construction over a limited period of time we will have something that will kick-start regeneration in a much bigger way than the refurbishment of the pedestrianised zone.
‘‘This project is a bigger boost to Kirkcaldy’s High Street.’’
Cllr Grant’s comment came just one week after the Save The Car Park campaign team called for an 11th hour review of the project - and a delay in any work starting until after the vital Christmas rush.
He believes their arguments are flawed.
‘‘Even if you take out Tolbooth Street there is still ample parking,’’ he said. ‘‘You may need to walk 200 yards rather than 50 yards, but the spaces are there - in fact many are even closer to the shops than Tolbooth Street, and even with the high level of demand over Christmas there is clear evidence that there is sufficient spare parking available to accommodate everyone.
‘‘There will be a six-week notice of closure and we will use it to give people time to get to know the alternative car parks, and we will work with retailers, talk them through how it will be managed and how we will flag up the alternatives.’’
On the call for a delay, he believes it would only add to any confusion.
Cllr Grant explained: ‘‘A lot of work can get done on site before Christmas and, if we delay until January then it means we’d be starting the six-week notice period just weeks before Christmas ‘‘ I think that would cause uncertainty - I’d rather that uncertainty happened in October.
‘‘By the time the festive rush comes round we will have got through that period of transition.
‘‘While it may be tempting to wait until January we’d be talking about a three to four months in reality.
‘‘I could justify that if we felt there was going to be a serious impact on retailers and shoppers.
‘’I do not think there will be.’’
As for the building itself, Cllr Grant and Steve Grimmond, executive director, believe it WILL have a huge ‘wow’ factor.
The development will house two pools, one with a moveable floor, spectators’ gallery, a 60-station gym, health suite including sauna and steam room, and a four-court sports hall for various indoor sports and an aerobic studio.
‘‘You will see the £15m investment the moment you walk in,’’ said Mr Grimond. ‘‘It will be a truly iconic building - one that reconnects the town with the Esplanade and which provides real confidence in the heart of Kirkcaldy.
State of the art
‘‘This will be a state of the art building - and it has as good a range of sports and leisure facilities as you will get.’’
The Council accepts the new pool and leisure centre won’t have much public parking - but points out the existing pool has none - and it will have much improved access for the disabled.
Neither does it have the 50m pool needed to host competition galas for a simple reason - the sport’s national governing bodies weren’t interested, said Cllr Grant who believes the pool is ideal for community galas, recreational swimmers and people wanting to keep fit.
He also believes it marks the first steps on the road to delivering better sports facilities for Kirkcaldy.
‘‘We started off with a replacement pool, but we have been able to add in a lot more, and that is a huge bonus,’’ he said.
‘‘Dry land facilities have never been provided in a sports centre here before.
‘‘That’s new. It will take us a long way to giving the town what it needs and deserves.’’
And his summary?
‘‘Finally someone has the confidence in Kirkcaldy to invest - and we are prepared to be the first.
‘‘We will start the regeneration and encourage others to follow.
‘‘A brand new pool and leisure centre will make it a far more attractive package for investment in the town centre.