Plans for a £20m office development for thousands of workers in the Titanic Quarter will be unveiled today, spelling an upturn in business confidence.
Site owners Titanic Quarter Ltd announced it has submitted a planning application for 190,000 sq ft offices on Queens Road – thought to be the biggest commercial development in Belfast since the start of the downturn.
If permission is granted, the building could be built and open for business by autumn 2015 and could ultimately accommodate 2,000 workers.
The company said it wants to attract hi-tech firms serving the financial services industry to occupy the two blocks, of six and seven storeys each.
It is set to complement other plans to build a financial services centre in Titanic Quarter, and also follows a separate application earlier this year by Belfast Harbour for a 65,000 sq ft development at the other side of the lough.
The ambitious plans are being interpreted as a sign that economic recovery is well under way, alongside other positive indicators such as a 2% rise in property prices in the second quarter, and a pick-up in business activity in the Ulster Bank purchasing managers' index for July.
David Gavaghan, chief executive of Titanic Quarter, said: "As we see the first tangible signs that we are moving out of one of the longest economic recessions in the last century, it is time to ensure that Belfast can continue to offer potential investors flexible, modern, high-end business accommodation.
"Titanic Quarter is confident that this new development will fill a clear gap in the market, enabling Belfast to meet the requirements of the global knowledge economy, as well as offering indigenous firms the opportunity to expand in a dynamic area which is already home to over 100 successful and innovative businesses."
Some 4,000 people work in the Titanic Quarter.
David Wright, a director at commercial property agents CBRE, said the application was "a vote of confidence in Belfast".
"Whether for offices or industrial accommodation, there have not been any major planning applications in five or six years – nothing has been built. But this is a sign that people are starting to get geared up for the next cycle.
"It's also positive that somebody is targeting 2015 as a launch date as we are running out very, very quickly of good quality office accommodation.
"If another Allen & Overy or Chicago Mercantile Exchange was to come, it would be a struggle to get them the type of property they need. Much of the office accommodation which is available now is in the secondary market, which is not what they want as it doesn't meet modern standards."
Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said the agency had secured around 2,800 foreign direct investment jobs in the most recent financial year, making Northern Ireland one of the most successful regions in the UK for inward investment.
"Being able to select from a wide range of property solutions is a key factor for potential investors and I am pleased that Titanic Quarter is planning to enhance Belfast's property mix."