WORK is finally set to begin next month to demolish a prominent city centre eyesore – more than five years after it was damaged by fire.
Scaffolding at the former Eastgate Hostel will be taken down and the stonework removed ahead of a rebuild, with the owners intending to start work shortly after the new year.
Expectations have been repeatedly dashed over the years, but traders and community leaders have given a cautious welcome to the latest assurances.
Pat Hayden, chairman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, said: "I hope it will be a positive start to 2019. I hope any bad weather doesn't put them off."
Chiropodist James Crawford, whose business is in nearby Stephen's Brae, is optimistic the work will begin.
"We can only wait until January and see what happens," he said. "Once we get Christmas over with all the Christmas traffic, then it should start in January."
Building consultant Gary Johnston, agent for the owners Imtaiz Ali and Mr Cheng, expected the removal of the scaffolding and frontage to begin in the second or third week of January and take about eight weeks.
"It is hoped we will be in a position to carry on the rebuild immediately after that," he said.
"If for any reason the owners are not able to start the work immediately, the hoarding will be put back flush with the buildings on either side so there is nothing projecting into Eastgate. That would be for as short a time as possible until we are able to start rebuilding."
Talks are ongoing with Highland Council and Inverness Business Improvement District to agree the removal of street furniture to allow lorries to access the site and take away stonework which will be used in the rebuild, which is expected to take between 12 and 14 months.
David Haas, the council's city manager, was pleased to see progress.
"We are continuing to work with the property owners to deliver the plans to start work in January and to take down the facade and reconstruct the building to bring High Street back up into full use," he said.
"Through that process, there will be some disruption and we are working with the business community to make sure it is minimised."
Final proposals for the rebuild comprising two holiday flats above shops are still to be agreed.