THE artist behind controversial plans to revitalise Bangor's Queen's Parade has said the temporary project will be "an amazing and beautiful thing" and a "magnet" for Bangor.
Inga Hamilton, who provided the artistic inspiration for North Down council's plans, has appealed for critics to be open-minded and to wait for the full plans to be seen before they condemn them.
Last week the Community Telegraph revealed plans for the rejuvention project which includes 24 artists display areas or 'pods' which was confirmed a day later by the Regional Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
The temporary project, which will house 24 artists over two years within the bespoke pods, will cost -pound;288,000. The DSD is investing -pound;250,000 in the project, while North Down Borough Council will fund the remaining -pound;38,000.
Other elements of the project include performance space for events and displays plus a community garden in which residents can grow plants and vegetables.
Intended as an interim measure, the plans were unveiled to fill the void left by lengthy delays in a long-awaited, permanent multi-million redevelopment to incorporate a hotel, theatre and entertainment facility by developer Karl Greenfarm.
Mr McCausland acknowledged local frustrations and said: "I am aware that plans for the development of this area are taking longer than we all would have liked, however the developer is currently speaking to the people that live and own property within the proposed boundary. It is right that sufficient time is allowed for these negotiations to conclude and my Department will carefully review the position at the end of October."
The plans have come under bitter criticism on social network sites with posters saying the money could have been much better spent bolstering the town's retailers and upgrading current facilities.
The use of "up-market shipping containers", as the artists pods have been described, have been condemned by many.
One Broken Bangor poster described the plan as "Absolute nonsense. Put in services and move the weekly market down there; start a weekly farmers' market; concrete stage up the hill for summer concerts; skate park for summer and ice rink for winter, with a Christmas Fair."
Louise Macartney of the For a Better Bangor (FABB) group, said: "As far as FABB is concerned we cautiously welcome this in that we are enthusiastic that something's being done with the area but at the same time we don't have the full details so it's hard to know how to respond."
Her group is seeking a meeting with the council's tourism director Christine Mahon seeking further details of the project, and hope for proper consultation.
According to Inga, however, co-founder of a Northern Ireland artists network, Firsty, this is meant to be a wonderful story for Bangor.
"If the council had been able to launch this the way it had planned to, and it had not been leaked and speculated on, people would see what an amazing, incredible and beautiful thing this is going to be."
She added that similar projects have flourished in a number of worldwide cities including Gabriel's Wharf, Corn Street Studios, both in London and in Sydney, Australia, with some earmarked for short periods still in existence after 20 years.
"It will be a real magnet for Bangor whether they are interested in art or not. It will attract people and there will be something going on every day. It will be for families with children and for visitors who will come to see it.
"If people honestly think that the council was going to put in a bunch of rusty containers they are nuts."
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew admitted he had "mixed views" about this project. Welcoming the decision to "act now" rather than wait for the delayed, permanent development, he added: "After 20 years of frustration at the lack of action on Queen's Parade, people still feel that their voices are not being heard. This announcement comes after little or no consultation with the local community."
North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne has welcomed the DSD's investment which he hoped would "improve footfall and interest" in the short term.
"We all recognise, that Queen's Parade needs a long term solution, however any attempt by Government to invest in these times is to be welcomed."