Work on the new £18m Lyric Theatre in Belfast will begin today.
Contractors are to start laying foundations at the Ridgeway Street site where one of the city’s most famous institutions used to stand. The old Lyric was knocked down last year after it became no longer fit for purpose. Its successor, which is set to open in 2011, will have four times the floor space and house a 400-seat main auditorium and a 150-capacity studio theatre.
It will also boast a new riverfront foyer and bars, and spacious rehearsal and dressing rooms.
The project was given the go-ahead after friends of the theatre managed to raise more than £16.5 million.
Fundraising efforts continue for the extra million needed to fit out the completed building.
Broadcaster and Lyric chairman Mark Carruthers welcomed the start of building work.
“This is a red letter day for the Lyric and we are delighted to have received the green light to commence construction,” he said.
“It has taken over seven years to get to this point and there have been many challenges along the way, but we have remained steadfast in our vision and worked tirelessly to raise over £16.5 million in an increasingly difficult economic climate.”
The Government has pledged more than £9 million to the project. Culture and Arts Minister Gregory Campbell said the development would also help the struggling construction sector.
"The Lyric is one of Northern Ireland’s most important cultural assets and I believe that the new theatre will provide a much valued facility for audiences and artists alike," he said.
"The Lyric is also recognised for the important role it has played and will continue to play in the development of drama in Northern Ireland."
The new theatre was designed by award-winning architects O’Donnell & Tuomey and construction firm Gilbert Ash will undertake the build.
Other key funders of the project include Belfast City Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Rosemary Kelly, chairman of the Arts Council, said: "The Arts Council of Northern Ireland undertook a review of drama in Northern Ireland last year which clearly pointed up the need to strengthen and build on the wonderful legacy and reputation of our only repertory theatre.
"The council has allocated £2,250,000 from its National Lottery funds for the rebuilding of the Lyric, a state-of-the-art facility, from where they can continue to nurture, develop and support our considerable local theatrical talent."