A historic estate in Ballymena is to benefit from an £8m facelift aimed at creating 60 jobs, boosting businesses and enticing tens of thousands of visitors to the area with lucrative golf, tourism and gardening offerings.
Galgorm Castle Estates Developments comprises Galgorm Castle – built in 1618 – a courtyard housing 20 businesses and a championship golf course.
The new investment will see £2m being spent on a garden centre, a car park for 180 cars, and the restoration of the Jacobean walled garden to its original style.
The garden centre, which will be operated by Creative Gardens which also runs garden centres in Donaghadee and Bushmills, is expected to attract around 80,000 visitors annually.
The second phase will include a £3m courtyard business area which will complement the current courtyard and include new offices.
Meanwhile the golf complex – ranked among the top 30 courses in Ireland – is set to host the Northern Ireland Open Challenge in the autumn, tapping into the prized golf tourism market, and the castle itself will also be restored and refurbished for the benefit of tourists.
It is hoped that the improvements will put the quiet corner of the North Antrim town firmly on the international map, with the world renowned Wrightbus factory and the Gallaher tobacco plant just a short distance away as well as the top leisure destination of Galgorm Manor.
The privately-funded venture was announced by Christopher Brooke from Galgorm Castle, who said the aim was to raise international awareness of Galgorm, Ballymena borough and Northern Ireland and attract further foreign direct investment into the area.
In addition to attracting local companies, the courtyard will continue to market to international companies who are interested in establishing offices in Northern Ireland, with an American engineering company and a South Korean software company already occupying space at the facility.
"Alongside this major investment, we are also currently working on a number of exciting projects, particularly, as we look forward to the Northern Ireland Open Challenge presented by Clannah & XJet," he said.
"Ahead of this premier international golf event which will be held at the Galgorm Castle Championship Golf Course late summer and attract approximately 30,000 visitors to the region, the clubhouse is receiving a £250,000 facelift.
"This refurbishment will include plush changing facilities, relaxation areas and a contemporary balcony area for bar and restaurant guests.
"The course has not been forgotten with substantial works planned including two new bunkers, three new tee boxes, paths, tree thinning and drainage."
Ballymena mayor PJ McAvoy added that Ballymena is a popular place to do business.
"Recently we have seen many success stories coming out of the borough. For that reason, this investment is important for both Ballymena and Northern Ireland," he said.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said that Galgorm Castle has the potential to become an even bigger economic asset to the Ballymena borough.
"Just last month, I announced that Galgorm Castle Golf Club was hosting the Northern Ireland Open Challenge, an event which will bring around 30,000 spectators to the course," she said.
"The combination of a superb golfing product, together with the new garden centre and restoration work to the castle, will make it an even more attractive proposition for tourists."
Revamp in numbers:
The number of new jobs investors hope will be created by the venture
Number of visitors garden centre hopes to attract
Number of businesses new courtyard will house
Amount pledged for golf course clubhouse refurb