Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Victoria Square leaves us hungry for more

With the developers all set to crank up their PR machine for a grand unveiling of Victoria Square’s long-awaited apartment scheme, the award-winning mall suffered another setback.

Restaurants Chilli’s and Maggiano’s became the latest tenants to fall victim to the recession, when their US owner Brinker announced it was to close all its UK outlets.

That was quickly followed by news that Ba Mizu, the swanky restaurant located at the top of House of Fraser and its Oyster Bar would also be closing. Talks are already underway for new tenants.

The closures are expected to have cost more than 130 people their jobs.

And, as is well documented, they are not the first stores to close their doors since the high-profile shopping centre opened last year with Zavvi, The Pier, Crombie and Hardy Aimes already having bitten the dust.

It is a sign of the times, but the shockwaves of every closure reverberates across the city, such was the fanfare that surrounded its construction and opening.

Despite the setbacks its remains a popular landmark development, which brought Belfast’s retail offering into the 21st century and gave shoppers access to high-end designer outlets for the first time.

And it has very much delivered on that goal.

It’s just that with a project on that scale timing is everything and as everyone knows Victoria Square coincided with the worst downturn in 50 years.

No doubt the knockers will be lining up to trot out the by now familiar accusation that the centre has become a ‘White Elephant’ for the city.

But let’s be honest Belfast would be a lot worse off without the development, which has attracted 10 million people since March 2008.

If nothing else it gives the totourists we are so desperate to attract somewhere to go on a rainy day — of which we get more than our fair share.

And when the economy picks up no doubt any remaining vacant lots will be filled.

The centre recently announced four new retailers are to open, creating about 70 full and part-time jobs.

What’s more if Victoria Square ever ran into serious trouble it would throw the local PR industry into a spin.

Where else in the city could possibly replace all those photos taken at the atrium at the top of the centre’s famous dome!

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