Harbour leads the way in redefining modern standards
I can remember ships berthed in Belfast Harbour almost as far up as the current Lagan Weir. As ships have grown in size, however, they've moved further out from the city centre towards deeper water in Belfast Lough. In their wake they left behind a blank canvass of waterfront land that has been transformed, perhaps like no other part of the city.
In the last two decades, Belfast has rediscovered the Lagan and benefitted from developments such as the Gasworks and Waterfront Hall. For its part, Belfast Harbour started the regeneration process back in the 1990s with the Laganside Corporation, helping facilitate new residential and office space in the Clarendon Dock area. A few years later Belfast Harbour also completed the highly successful redevelopment of the area which is home to IKEA and Holywood Exchange.
In recent years the regeneration process has proceeded at an accelerated rate as Belfast's appeal as a business destination has grown, outstripping demand for Grade A office space within the city. In support of the regional economy, Belfast Harbour is well advanced in the development of City Quays, one of the final pieces in the jigsaw of Belfast's modern waterfront revival.
An investment entirely by the Harbour - and as part of our current suite of £100m developments - City Quays is a waterfront development that aims to regenerate 20-acres of ex-shipping land, incorporating leading-edge design, particularly energy saving aspects which help reduce occupiers' day-to-day running costs.
Although we thought that there was demand for high quality office space, even we were surprised at the scale and level of interest in City Quays.
The first building, City Quays 1, is already complete and was fully let within nine months to blue chip clients including Baker & McKenzie. Its sister office, City Quays 2, is now well underway and will open next year. Such has been the interest that we're now actively preparing the way for City Quays 3, a 215,000 sq ft office.
It's not just office space either - after all, it's true what they say about 'all work and no play'. The scheme also includes a 188-bedroom hotel which will be Marriott's first location in Northern Ireland. Work on the four-star property is well underway for an early 2018 opening and, in tandem, City Quays will provide cafe and other retail space.
On the other side of the Victoria Channel, Titanic Quarter has begun to transform former shipbuilding land into the heart of Belfast's tourism offering with Titanic Belfast and a mix of residential, commercial and education facilities. Further up the Queen's Road, the Belfast Harbour Estate also houses the successful Catalyst Inc. which is pivotal to developing Northern Ireland's knowledge and R&D sectors.
Taken together, these developments have begun to reshape and redefine much of what a modern - and future - Belfast will look like. Future Belfast has been to the fore in highlighting these changes and, like every property professional in Belfast, I'll look forward to inputting to the new site.
Graeme Johnston is property director of Belfast Harbour