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Future of High Street Discussed as UoA Bosses Seek Tourist Cash

Gaudie finds overwhelming support for reopening King's Museum, but concerns over a potential cafe

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Photo of Old Aberdeen, looking north towards the Old Town House
University leaders have discussed creating a 'commerical zone' on the High St in Old Aberdeen

It’s no secret that Aberdeen Uni chiefs want more tourists to visit the institution’s King's College Campus.

Principal George Boyne has said as much, telling the Press and Journal last week, “We would love the tourists to get into some of our buildings at the weekend.

“We have plans to make that happen, with a place to maybe buy a T-shirt and a coffee as well.”

"It would be good to have information to let them know how long we have been here for, and what our traditions are… About our history and where we are now."

Just steps from bustling King St, the cobbled avenues of King's College could provide a much neeed respite for weary travellers. And with thousands of cruise ship passengers expected to disembark in Aberdeen this summer, a lucrative opportunity arises.

Yet, amidst a significant financial deficit, questions remain about how- and when- such proposals could be enacted. 

Does the University need a reimagining?

A recent study commissioned by University managers, entitled ‘Reimagining Our Campuses’, provides some clues. The review conceptualises the creation of a ‘Commercial Zone’ along the High Street in Old Aberdeen. 

Photo of a diagram which reads 'Conceptual Commerical Zone'
A diagram of the 'commerical zone', shown to staff and students earlier this month

This would see the University repurpose existing space, such as 90 and 110 High Street, for commercial use, either directly-managed or via third party lessees. 

The concept includes the reopening of the Old Town House (previously home to the King’s Museum) as an ‘ideal focal point for providing visitor information.'

Several other University-owned properties along the street are highlighted as potential retail opportunities, including the eastern side of the St Mary's Building.

Food Truck off the table

A photo of a blue truck in which two members of staff are serving food to a man with a hat
A past iteration of the Aberdeen Uni Foodtruck. Photo Credit: UoA

The University had previously applied for a licence to operate a food truck on College Bounds, but withdrew the application last autumn.

A spokesperson said: “The decision was taken to withdraw the application as the timing coincided with the launch of the Reimagining our Campus initiative and the University community being asked for suggestions on how the campus might develop and what future services might look like.”

The plans faced intense opposition from members of the Old Aberdeen community council, who expressed fears over the effect the food truck could have on independent traders in the area, such as Shelter, Kilau, and the Machar Bar.

Survey says.... reopen King's Museum

A photo of the King's Museum in Old Aberdeen's High Street
The King's Museum has yet to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a Gaudie survey of students, staff, and members of the public found widespread support for increased engagement with campus visitors, with nine in ten respondents saying that the University should reopen the shuttered King’s Museum. 

One student noted:

“It's insane that the university's collections are totally inaccessible to the public. The reopening of the museum will redress this.”

Another student added: “I think anything that brings in revenue to Aberdeen would be very beneficial to the city right now which from my view is struggling immensely. I think that contributing to the tourist sector by really making a destination out of Old Aberdeen would be a super positive thing.”

Last autumn, University museum curator Neil Curtis told The Gaudie that discussions had been held about a potential reopening of the King’s Museum. 

He said: “Feedback from visitors to King’s Museum in the Old Aberdeen Town House indicated that most would have preferred an exhibition about the history of the University and Old Aberdeen, so this is the focus of current discussions about the future use of that building.”

What about a new cafe?

Survey respondents were divided on the topic of the University opening a new cafe, with some noting the detrimental effect this could have on small businesses in the area. 

A photo of the St Mary's building on the High St in Old Aberdeen
Could this part of the St Mary's building be used as an entertainment space or eatery?

However, many expressed support for the idea, noting the lack of things to do around campus in the late afternoon and evening. 

One student told us:

“It'd be a good idea to bring in some extra tourists to the Old Aberdeen area.. Less sold on the cafe because there are good local alternatives but the museum should be open anyway. “

A member of the public added: “The idea of having things in place for tourists is great. However, there are already two cafes on the high street and the pub and it would be a shame if footfall to these places reduced if the uni opens a cafe. It would need to be complementary to what is already provided.”

Another student proposed that the University simply open existing facilities on weekends, commenting: 

“The university already has facilities such as places to eat or buy coffee, as well as shops that are stocked with merchandise that could be opened at the weekend and during holidays. This change might benefit students as well as tourists. There is no need to spend yet more of the University’s dwindling money on constructing or converting new cafés/shops when the facilities already exist.”

A third student suggested that the shuttered Starbucks in Crombie Hall could be repurposed into a visitors centre.

Photo of the old Starbucks outlet in Crombie Hall
The Starbucks outlet on campus has been closed since June 2023.

They said: “There is the space where Starbucks used to be which would be a good place to open a tourist hub for the summer and social space for term time.”

A staff member noted:

“If you're going to do it, make a proper concerted effort. Don't do half a job. Provide refreshments, souvenirs and proper campus tours with photo opportunities etc.”

Another staff member added: “It's a great idea to generate income. The campus is in dire need of more eateries and entertainment, particularly at night, to attract staff, students and the public to hang around after class, work and to make the effort to travel to Old Aberdeen.”


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