Stage it and they will come – how comic con success is way ahead for Kirkcaldy town centre

Kevin Costner’s famous “build it and they will come” misquoted mantra was pure Hollywood.
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He followed the voice in his head to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield, but maybe we need a sprinkling of that cinematic magic for our town centre.

Giving people reasons to come to the High Street came sharply into focus at the weekend when my wife and I popped into the Mercat Shopping Centre, and found the place buzzing with life, noise and crowds. It was entirely down to a comic con that they came at all - but that was the point. There was something happening of interest to a huge audience, and they poured through the doors. Build it and they will come.

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It’s a genre I know nothing about other than it attracts a devoted fan base - one happy to dress up and, crucially, spend money. I’d love to see an economic impact study on the benefits it brought.

Comic Cons have become huge events (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)Comic Cons have become huge events (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)
Comic Cons have become huge events (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)

I mean no absolutely disrespect to any individual trader when I say we know that the retail offering across the town centre as a whole isn’t good enough both in terms of quality and quantity. The shift to online and retail parks has done irreversible damage, and we are all to blame. Town centres like Kirkcaldy have been built for generations – but, what do you do when ‘the shops’ no longer have the same pull?

Without custom no business can survive, and the transition to more residential and a wider range of retail, recreation and leisure services remains a very long, slow process which may take another generation. So, back to Big Kev - maybe one key is events like comic cons, but on regular basis.

I’m willing to wager the Mercat was busier on Saturday than it has been for years, and the good news is that another event is planned for May - but that’s almost two months away. What happens in the interim?

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I’d love to see the Mercat, and indeed the pedestrianised zone and even some of the dreadful eyesores of empty shops commandeered for a host of events - everything from makers’ markets to record fairs, recycling/upcycling events and fashion shows.

But they all take time, resource, and funding - event management is also a full-time job. The town hasn’t had a dedicated organisation to take on anything remotely approaching such things since the BID closed, and it too operated on a shoestring.

Maybe in 2024, we need to roll up our sleeves and do them ourselves? The perfect example I can offer is Portobello’s big beach busk which happens at the end of August every year without a single bit of red tape or even a committee - you turn up and play for as long as you want in any of the circles chalked on the prom. End result? Businesses are packed and thousands turn up for a brilliant day of free music featuring everyone from kids squealing out Frere Jaques on a recorder to a brilliant salsa band leading as conga in the water. We have a Prom, we have vennels and empty shops …

Bottom line - give people variety and choice, give them something new and exciting and they’ll come and see for themselves.

And while one-off events are great, imagine what a rolling programme of events and attractions could do for the town centre…