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Green light for Belfast's £100m Titanic centre

Work on a £100 million signature project to commemorate the Titanic is set to get under way next month after Belfast City Council gave the project the green light today.

The backing of councillors means all stakeholders have now rubber-stamped plans for a five-storey tourist attraction on the derelict shipyard where the famous liner was built almost 100 years ago.

The council has pledged £10 million toward the project, with the Northern Ireland Executive, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and a private developer providing the rest of the funding.

With all the partners keen to have the centre opened ahead of the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking in April 2012, engineers will go on site in the coming weeks to begin preparatory work.

The project will create 600 construction jobs, with the finished centre requiring 250 permanent staff.

Today's decision by the council's Strategic Policy and Resources committee will go before all councillors for ratification at the start of next month.

Above: Artist's impression

Committee chair and Democratic Unionist councillor Diane Dodds said the move confirmed the council's commitment to developing the city for the present and future generations.

"By doing so, we are helping to provide employment for the construction industry, which has been badly affected by the economic downturn," she added.

"The benefits do not stop there, however, as the Titanic Signature Project is expected to attract up to 400,000 visitors to Belfast who will spend an estimated £30 million each year, boosting our local economy.

"It is only fitting and right that the Belfast City Council gets involved in bringing the Titanic story back to its birthplace in time for its centenary anniversary.

"This is Belfast's moment. Our unique history and a future full of promise have come together to create a city bursting with energy and optimism. New things are happening, there is a determination to keep what is good and change the things that could be better. A vibrant mix of old and new is a visual proof of a dynamic city reinventing itself."

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has claimed the new centre will rival Paris's Eiffel tower and Sydney's Grand Opera House when it comes to internationally recognised iconic structures.

One of the main attractions inside will be a 65-seater "four dimensional" flying theatre that will take passengers on a virtual dive down to the liner's final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic.

The rest of the centre will be split into themed galleries, each designed to take visitors through a stage in the Titanic story.

Halfway through this, the experience ventures outdoors to a balcony overhanging the dock the liner was launched from in 1911.

An integral part of the project will be a memorial to the 1,500 people who died when the Titanic went down on her maiden voyage.

Away from the tourist attraction, the top level of the building will house a 750-seater banqueting suite, where a number of Titanic-themed evenings will be staged.

While on the bottom floor there will be space reserved for commercial premises, with the hope that restaurants and cafes can sustain a night-time trade in the illuminated centre.

Based on the logo of the vessel's owners - White Star Line - the building will be in the shape of the star, with each point designed to look like the bow of the famous ship.

Councillor Dodds said Belfast was fast becoming a must-see destination for tourists from across the globe.

"This project will give them yet another reason to visit this flourishing city and I am delighted that Belfast City Council is getting involved," she added.

"Our support for this project is in keeping with Belfast City Council's proud past of providing investment that becomes a catalyst for major improvements to the city. Our action today will leave a positive legacy for future generations".

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