The success of the Balmoral Show proves that the Maze is now open for business, according to the team behind the development of the former prison site.
“Balmoral at Maze Long Kesh is brilliant — that has been the feedback we have received so far,” said Terence Brannigan, chair of the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation.
The show's move to the Maze has proved a major success, despite a rather shaky start with traffic gridlock at some hotspots, along with high winds and hailstones.
But by Thursday the traffic was settling down and the sunshine broke through, creating a festival atmosphere at the huge site, which is twice the size of the Balmoral Show's former home in south Belfast.
Colin McDonald, chief executive of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, said there had been concerns that the much bigger site could look somewhat empty if the visitor numbers weren't there. But by Thursday night the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation was having to open overflow car parks in addition to the 85 acres of car parking to accommodate the steady flow of visitors.
The larger site has been able to allow for a list of new livestock classes, a new home industries section, which was visited by the Earl of Wessex on Wednesday, and a funfair complete with Big Wheel.
Mr Brannigan (below) said: “While we recognise that there were some issues with traffic, particularly for people travelling from the west on Wednesday, by Thursday it is fair to say that the RUAS and its partner organisations had dealt with these.
“This is not a one-off — Maze Long Kesh is now open for business and following on from Balmoral, we have the Lisburn and Saintfield District Show in a couple of weeks.
“If you have not yet visited Maze Long Kesh, come and see how we intend to make our vision of peace to prosperity a reality, to change 347 acres of land into £300m investment and 5,000 jobs.”
RUAS said the show will lead the way for other developments on the site of the old Maze Prison.
“We believed the site was of regional significance and we are showing that it is. We set out to do that and we've done it,” Mr McDonald said.
“Our concern was that if we had a big site and didn't have the numbers it would look empty and wouldn't have the atmosphere of previous Balmoral Shows.
“We are so, so pleased that people have come and that they have voted with their feet, that this is a good location and the atmosphere has come with us because of that.”
Lessons were learned after the first day when motorists faced hours of gridlock as they tried to reach the site, he admitted.
Mr McDonald said the organisers had given livestock and trade stand exhibitors opportunities ahead of the show to test how access would be organised.
“We had to make sure that the traffic plan was well communicated. We also had to ensure that we had a good public transport solution in place,” he said. “RUAS invested a very considerable sum in putting on a bus shuttle from Lisburn station.”
Mr McDonald added that the show has been a major boost to the Lisburn economy, with accommodation booked solid for a 10-mile radius of the site.