Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

The weddings are off as the City Hall shuts down

Historic Belfast City Hall: a much-loved venue for ceremonies

Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful events a person can go through.

But organising a move for around 400 employees for two years while overseeing a massive £10m renovation plan of a 100-year-old building brings added pressure. But this is exactly what Belfast City Hall is preparing to do next summer.

In 2007 the landmark Edwardian building shuts down for a maximum of 22 months to carry out vital refurbishment.

The work includes replacement of the building's electrics, plumbing and re-roofing.

But the problem of where to relocate staff, the council chamber, the Lord Mayor's Office, formal functions as well as weddings and civil partnership ceremonies is a tough one.

Councillors have been debating for months over alternative venues for workers.

Sites and buildings including Capitol House, Ulster Bank, Maysfield, Gasworks, the Courthouse, Jennymount Mill and Louisville House have been considered and rejected. But this month Belfast City councillors finally decided that all employees will move to Adelaide Exchange in Belfast.

But a decision as to where the council chamber, formal functions and elections will take place has still to be made.

A council source told the Belfast Telegraph that a makeshift council chamber could be held either at the BT Studio at the Waterfront Hall, or Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

And in terms of the Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and High Sheriff a possible solution is renting Laganside offices from Belfast Harbour Commission.

"Formal functions, as and when they come up, could be held at either Belfast Castle or Malone House," he said.

He also added that councillors are optimistic the first part of the renovations will be complete for any upcoming elections.

"We hope to have the Great Hall, Banqueting and Reception Hall ready in time for elections as it is the first part of the building work to be carried out," he said.

But one change of venue that will directly affect the public is the relocation of wedding ceremonies. Weddings and civil partnerships arranged before July 1 will go ahead as planned.

But for those brides and grooms-to-be the backdrop of the Victorian City Hall will not be available after that date.

Couples can still host weddings ceremonies at Belfast Castle, Malone House or even the Waterfront Hall, but City Hall ceremonies will be switched to a new purpose-built registry office in nearby Adelaide Street.

This, says wedding expert Roisin McAleenan, will have an effect on the number getting married at the temporary City Hall venue.

Roisin, Ireland's only member of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants, said: "Belfast City Hall closing up for the renovation work I think it will have a detrimental effect to that specific wedding market, simply because it is the ambience and appearance and the whole classical area that a bride is looking for.

"I don't think that another registry office in a new building would really be a fantastic wedding venue compared to what was on offer at the historic City Hall, so I can imagine couples probably would out-source and go to the likes of Malone House, Belfast Castle or even the Waterfront Hall if allowed."

"Every bride is so enthralled with their wedding day and it has to look right and Belfast City Hall was a beautiful venue. It would be hard to recreate that atmosphere in a modern building."

Belfast Castle is Ulster's most popular wedding venue. It hosted 88 civil ceremonies and 39 religious ceremonies last year.

But Roisin said once the refurbishment is complete City Hall could be more popular.

"I would imagine if there are going to spend the time and money on it, it could have a better facade and it could become even more popular than Belfast Castle."

Were you hoping to get married or have a civil partnership at City Hall after July 2007? Will you now look for another location? email: vo'hara@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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