Perth City Hall could be re-branded as part of its multi-million-pound transformation into a major visitor attraction.
Culture chiefs are considering giving the iconic venue a new name and identity to give it wider appeal, and help pull in more tourists from outside the region.
They are concerned that visitors might dismiss “city hall” as a humdrum council admin building, rather than a vibrant new museum.
The city’s Head of Culture Fiona Robertson revealed that the name was under review, as work begins on the next stage of Perth’s £30 million cultural renaissance.
The Courier was given exclusive access to the city hall building, before construction crews descend to start work on its radical redesign.
City Hall, once a thriving music venue, is just one part of a huge shake-up of Perth’s cultural assets. Ms Robertson revealed that Perth Museum and Art Gallery is scheduled to relaunch after a multi-million-pound revamp in 2022, while there are also plans for a huge store to keep the council’s vast collections of artworks, natural history items, books and documents under one roof.
The Stone of Destiny will feature at the heart of the new look city hall, said Ms Robertson – even if the council’s bid to reclaim the artefact from Edinburgh Castle is unsuccessful.
She said there was still an “active negotiation” between the local authority and Historic Environment Scotland.
“It has been a long and detailed discussion,” she said. “There’s all sorts of considerations around things like security. We have to show how we will manage the increased visitor numbers, and how we will interpret the stone and tell it’s story sensitively.
“We have now given them all the information and we have made the best possible case for the stone to come here. Whether it comes or not, I believe we have done the best possible job for Perth.”
Ms Robertson added: “We haven’t designed city hall around the Stone of Destiny, but whether we get the physical object or not, the Stone will be an incredibly important part of the story that we are trying to tell.”
Designs for the interior of the hall are being finalised. A pavilion is planned for the centre of the ground floor exhibition to house the Stone of Destiny display.
“We have spent a lot of time going through the museum collections,” she said. “It was felt we had hidden treasures that we weren’t really making the most of.
“The ground floor is very much about the pre-history and medieval history of Perth, and why it was that the city was so pivotal in the shaping of ancient Scotland.
“Perth, with its huge river and many natural assets, became this medieval powerhouse and the ground floor display will explore that.
“The first floor is more about what happened afterwards, and what took us to where we are today.”
She said: “What struck us was that we had this story of Perth in our collection, but it was also the story of Scotland in a lot of ways. City hall seems like the best place to tell that story.
“The building is part of the history of the city. There’s a lot of people who will remember going there for concerts, or singing there as part of a choir.
“What we are trying to achieve with the building design is bring it back to life as a place in Perth that people will flock to, and as a community hub.”
Ms Robertson added: “We’ve been talking a lot about the name recently. Everyone knows it as city hall, but if you don’t know Perth you might assume its a city chambers, or an administrative building.
“It’s not for me to say if we will change the name, but I think that is something that needs to be considered.
“It’s quite important what a building is called.”
Large green hoardings have been put in place around the hall, with 18-months of construction work due to start before the end of the year. The council is on schedule to relaunch in 2021.
New home for Fergusson artwork
The city’s extensive collection of work by painter John Duncan Fergusson will be relocated to the new look Perth Museum and Art Gallery, culture boss Fiona Robertson confirmed.
The Fergusson Gallery on Tay Street is scheduled to close, and its collection will become the centrepiece at the George Street museum as part of a £10 million upgrade.
Ms Robertson said: “While city hall will look at Scotland’s ancient history, we also want to tell the story of how we became a modern nation.
“We think that Perth Museum is the ideal place to tell that story.”
Perth’s JD Fergusson collection is the largest of its kind in the world.
“He was an important Scottish modernist and he was instrumental in making modern Scotland what it is today,” said the culture chief.
“While that part of the story will be told at Perth Museum, there will be a connection between it and city hall.
“My ideal will be to create a fantastic day out for people, so that they come to Perth and visit both attractions.”
She said: “The Fergusson Gallery is an absolutely beautiful building and we are very lucky to have it. We will look at what the building could be used for in the future and how people can continue to enjoy it.”
A £1 million plan to create a purpose-built collection store at Inveralmond has been scrapped, and the council is now looking for new ways to keep its vast collection together.