THE vacant riverside site could be left open to the river and transformed into a public square and garden.

The Ayr Renaissance building which borders the plot could be turned into a heritage centre, acting as a focal point for a history trail which seeks to make the most of the oldest - and most historic - part of Ayr.

The plans emerged this week from the ruling administration at South Ayrshire Council.

Following the rejection of the plan to build a substantial office block on the site of the former Woolworths building, councillors have gone back to the drawing board, and now aim to make the most of the site being opened up to the river.

Depute Leader Brian McGinley said: “It has forced us to rethink how we can use other buildings. From being disappointed, we have got to a comfortable stage.”

Leader of the Council Douglas Campbell explained: “We are going to invest some money and can now look at accessing the river.  If we leave it open then we can invest in a public park and look at turning the remaining building into a museum. We could extend the public realm even more and declutter the bottom end of the High Street.

“We need to support arts and culture and local businesses. With the involvement of Steven Brown Newmarket Street is looking great and we need to build on that.”

The council are currently looking at options for the relocation of staff from the not-fit-for-purpose Burns House. These include the current police headquarters in King Street, a possible site in Arran Mall, and other possible buildings within Ayr town centre.

Other locations, such as Girvan and Troon, are being considered for council staff who stay in those areas, which could also boost both those town centres.

Councillor Campbell said: “We don’t feel it makes sense for council workers having to travel a 50 mile round trip each day. Basing some of them in a town like Girvan, where they live, would save them money and reduce our carbon footprint. It would also regenerate that town centre. 

“We are undertaking a major IT project which will improve connectivity between all our offices so that would make all this possible.”

The immediate issue of staffing relocation, however, is only one part of an overall masterplan which aims to transform the entire lower part of the town into a centre for cultural, artistic and heritage attractions.

This could include an extension of the indoor market area in the former Clydesdale Bank building to include an outdoor market area, and transform the site and Fish Cross into a more attractive site for visitors.

Arts and Culture staff within the council could also be based in the area, while the former Afflecks site behind could be used to site further public areas.

The Town Hall could be built into a focal point for the town, in conjunction with the opening up of the site to the river and future work on the other side of the river.

Depute Leader, Brian McGinley, said: “We have a great historical opportunity, making the focal point the Town Hall, which would support the bottom end of the town. We need to maximise what we already have, compliment it and sustain it.”

Part of the work the council is doing could involve a rethink on policy, so that the lower end of the High Street moves from purely retail to an accent on other premises. This would move towards national trends which have replaced shopping with experiences as one of the main reasons why people visit town centres.

Brian McGinley said: “The top end of the town would have a retail feel. We could make from Wallace Tower down the old part of the town. That would have a different feel to it. It’s about cultural experience. We have so many historical figures linked to the town and we have never done enough to promote them.”

The multiple sites are now being looked at as a matter of urgency.

Against a background of plans being proposed and not going ahead, they say this is a chance to reverse that.

Councillor McGinley said: “We are trying to make up for 40 years of lack of investment. We have four. 

“We need the community to appreciate that we are trying to help.

“We are trying to do something in the town.”