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Three massive venues are aiming to attract thousands of visitors

By Claire McNeilly

Published 31/08/2015

A designers drawing of the new Eikon Exhibition Centre at the former Maze prison site
A designers drawing of the new Eikon Exhibition Centre at the former Maze prison site

You wait ages for one huge conference and exhibition centre and then three come along at once -with each one claiming to be the biggest and best in the country.

The first to open in the next couple of weeks will be the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

It boasts a mammoth 5,000 sq metre space for events, and is capable of housing 20,000 visitors and hundreds of exhibitors.

That will make the Queen's Road venue the biggest building of its type in Northern Ireland.

However, the 'TEC' will have to relinquish that title after only a few weeks when the Eikon Exhibition Centre opens its doors 10 miles down the M1 at Balmoral Park.

At 5,100 sq metres the Eikon, due to be completed in November, is slightly bigger than its Titanic Quarter rival and, as part of the former Maze Prison site that houses the Balmoral Show, it can also offer 4,000 free car parking spaces.

Like the TEC, however, its reign as Northern Ireland's largest indoor exhibition venue will be short-lived courtesy of the controversial new Waterfront Hall extension.

The 4,000 sq metre project will push the Waterfront's event space to 7,000 sq metres, although it can't match the other two venues for car parking. Belfast City Council, however, believes the venue's city centre location, plus unrivalled event technology, will give it the edge.

Titanic Quarter's chief executive David Gavaghan said: "Over the last few years we have been approached by a number of exhibition organisers to consider developing a dedicated Titanic Exhibition Centre.

"We believe this is an opportune time to develop a new space in central Belfast that will allow the city to market itself as a destination for consumer, lifestyle and trade events."

The Eikon Exhibition Centre, which is due to host the Irish Golf Expo on November 28-29 this year, is already battling fierce competition from the TEC for former King's Hall exhibitors.

So far, the Titanic venue has secured major shows such as Improve Your Home - originally scheduled for the King's Hall in October - and the Holiday World expo in January.

The Eikon and King's Hall owners, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, insisted that their multi-million pound investment in the new building will establish it as the "premier exhibition and event centre for Northern Ireland".

"The Eikon will be the only exhibition and events venue in Northern Ireland that delivers on all counts," said King's Hall Complex finance and commercial director Theresa Morrissey.

"Event organisers require a flexible space. The Eikon has been designed for ease of use and includes permanent service installations to ensure costs to organisers are known and minimised."

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