Reprieve for troubled Exploris as council agrees £1.5m funding
Northern Ireland's only aquarium has been saved, and will reopen soon with an unexpected new operator - the company responsible for the success of Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.
The good news comes after Ards and North Down Borough Council approved a £1.5m rescue package for Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry last night.
Crumlin Road Gaol Ltd (CRG)has enjoyed outstanding success with the transformed prison, now one of the top three visitor attractions in Northern Ireland.
Exploris has been shut for the past year as the council attempted to draw down funding from Stormont to refurbish the facility.
Councillor Joe Boyle, who proposed the motion to approve the funding, said he was delighted.
"I've been campaigning on this issue for the past three years," he said. And I want to say that it's good to see Portaferry getting back on its feet."
Work will start at Exploris as soon as possible, with the aim of re-opening this summer.
The SDLP councillor added: "Portaferry has been in a dark tunnel for a good while, though we've had a few false dawns, but I'm glad to say I think that the sun is now beginning to shine."
Exploris is just one of four projects boosting the business and tourist economy of the Ards peninsula, the councillor said, pointing to upgrades at the Market House, the Portico heritage centre, and the rescue of the Portaferry Hotel by new operators.
"This is a massive boost for the area," he said.
"These projects will bring more than 50 jobs - and that's a significant help to local small businesses."
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said he secured funding of £914,000 to help make this happen.
Mr Durkan said: "This is a tremendous boost for the residents and businesses in Portaferry.
"I salute them and the Friends of Exploris Group for their successful campaign to keep the aquarium in their town afloat.
"They undoubtedly faced uncertain times and I was pleased to secure funding of over £900,000 which with council funding, now means work on the new aquarium can begin after Easter.
"This is also a tremendous boost for tourism in the North.
"A refurbished, modern aquarium will be yet another attraction to bring tourists to our shores.
"Well done to Ards and North Down Borough Council for reeling this in."