Business

Countdown begins to 'curtain-up' at new-look £29.5m Waterfront Hall

A computer generated image showing the new-look Belfast Waterfront
Gail Bell

DESPITE some controversy over its design, the new £29.5 million extension to Belfast Waterfront Hall is promising the 'wow' factor when it opens for business next spring.

And the countdown has already started, with a 'topping out' ceremony held yesterday as final fixtures and fittings were put in place in the new-look building.

The debate over its design intensified this summer when alternative plans were published by the building's original architects, Robinson McIlwaine, who lost out in the new contract to Todd Architects.

But the Todd interpretation has not always attracted unanimous support, with critics dubbing the re-modelled Waterfront as the 'Box on the Docks' and an ugly addition to the Belfast skyline.

All that was forgotten yesterday as representatives from Belfast City Council and Tourism Ireland - who, along with the European Regional Development Fund are funding the expansion - spoke in glowing terms of the extended theatre and conference centre.

"I’m blown away by what we’ve been shown today and firmly believe that business delegates travelling to Belfast will feel the same, once they step inside this outstanding space," enthused Belfast lord mayor Arder Carson.

Two interconnecting halls, three additional meeting rooms and a new reception area will integrate with the existing auditorium and studio spaces to create the city’s largest conference and exhibition facility, catering for up to 5,000 guests across 7,000 square metres of flexible space.

The centre aims to generate £100m return for Belfast over a five-year period and create in the region of 1,500 new hospitality and retail jobs by attracting 55,000 conference delegates by 2020 - twice the current rate.

Meanwhile, the first major conference following completion of the work will be the annual International Surgical Congress of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland next May, while the Irish League of Credit Unions announced yesterday that it would be hosting the World Council of Credit Unions at the Waterfront in July, 2016.

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