Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Floral could return to former glory

BY REBECCA BLACK

The Floral Hall, stunning, but crumbling old dance venue was once one of the city's top venues, bringing in 130,000 patrons in 1947 alone.

Since it closed in 1972 it has become one of many beautiful old buildings in Belfast to face a doubtful future, despite an enthusiastic online campaign to see it restored.

It it just one of a series of stunning old sites which are crumbling while it awaits funding, including the historic Crumlin Road Court House, the former Ewart's Warehouse on Bedford Street and former home of the Belfast Stock Exchange, the Bank of Ireland building on Royal Avenue, recently squatted in by the Occupy Belfast movement.

The former home of Northern Ireland's first Prime Minister James Craig stands proudly thanks to the work of the Somme Association as well as supporters who voluntarily visit every Sunday to lovingly clean and maintain the building.

The house is currently secured but without significant funding, it is unlikely to ever be returned to it's original glory.

The beautiful former Swanston's Linen Warehouse, known as the Athletic Stores on Queen Street also faces an uncertain future following a city council vote to demolish in 2011.

The City Council is now set to vote on whether or not to carry out a feasibility study to assess the viability of the development of a hotel within the site of the old Belfast Zoo, including the refurbishment of the Floral Hall.

The art deco-style dance hall was built in 1936 and quickly became a top venue, hosting showbands and entertainers.

Even the black-out in the Second World War couldn't stop the fun -- special fittings were placed on the windows to ensure the entertainment could continue.

However, its sparkle had started to fade by the early 1970s when fewer and fewer people turned out to dance, eventually leading to its closure in 1972 as the Troubles took hold.

It was used just once more as a counting centre for the border poll, but the doors have been closed ever since.

DUP councillor Gareth McKee is behind the push to give the Floral Hall a new lease of life.

"The proposal focuses on the old zoo site with the potential to include the Floral Hall as part of that," he said.

"In the years gone by there has been a few false dawns for it, so it is really to try and push to see if we can get it restored.

"It's nostalgic for a lot of people, a lot of people have taken an interest in it and would like to see it restored and even brought back in use again.

"I am too young to remember going to it, but a lot of my constituents would talk about it, and my mum would have gone to a few of the dances there. It's a pity it is sitting up there empty, it would be great to get it restored."

Councillor McKee said a new hotel or other development of the site would bring much needed jobs to the area.

"When you go up on the old zoo site, you have the best views across the city," he said.

"It could also help the local area and bring jobs. That stage is still a long way off."

Last week council voted to send the proposal to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee. Councillor McKee said he did not expect anyone to oppose it at the next meeting of the committee this week.

Almost 3,000 people have signed a petition to restore the hall.

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