Titanic project will be a success, says Peter Robinson
The multi-million pound Titanic Signature Building in Belfast will become an international attraction, First Minister Peter Robinson says.
He and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness sprung to the defence of the project after a recent Audit Office report cast doubt over its long-term prospects.
The biggest single tourism project launched in Northern Ireland, the building will require an estimated 290,000 visitors a year to break even.
And so far 35,000 tickets have been sold in advance of its opening in April to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the historic ship’s sinking.
Stormont’s top two ministers were challenged on the project when they attended the Assembly scrutiny committee which monitors their department.
Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt pointed out that Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly had concluded an alternative proposal from the Odyssey Trust — for a wrap-around building at W5 — would have been “a lot easier on the public purse”.
He said it would have cost £40m compared to the Titanic building’s £60m, and “yielded more in terms of long-term cash benefits”.
But Mr Robinson said he had not been inspired by the wrap-around proposal, and the projected visitor figure targets in the Executive’s Programme for Government are a “significant increase” on previous years.
“I believe that people will be blown away by the new Titanic signature project when it opens. It is a fantastic concept and the building is great. It will be a very significant attraction in Northern Ireland,” the DUP leader told MLAs.
“Interestingly, some of the market research showed that the Titanic is better known than Ireland by people in middle Asia and south Asia. From that point of view, we have a massive commodity for the tourist industry.
“I do not think that anyone will be disappointed by the Titanic signature project. The rather more makeshift one proposed for the side of the Odyssey paled in comparison to what is happening.
“I accept that this is a much more extensive proposition, but it is a much more permanent proposition that, in international terms, will be seen as a must-go destination.”
Mr McGuinness added: “Maybe we are just more ambitious for the future than the Comptroller and Auditor General.”
The Audit Office report, however, said indications are the Titanic project will prove popular initially, but may not consistently reach or exceed the numbers required for years to come.
It measured potential performance of the building by looking at the money spent divided by the number of visitors it will attract and concluded the project may prove more expensive than some of the top tourist attractions in the world, including Disneyland in Paris, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the London Eye.
Opening in April next year, the Titanic signature building is at the precise location where the ill-fated ship was built by Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolff 100 years ago.
From the windows, visitors will look down on the drawing |office, the dry dock and and the slipway from where the Titanic was launched — and the scale of the building mimics the actual size of the ship. Joiners have built a copy of the grand staircase on the ship, which featured in the hit movie Titanic, and diners will be able to eat in a replica restaurant.
The days and nights that will make 2012 in Ulster a year to remember
Northern Ireland is set for a bumper year of events in 2012. Here are just some of them:
April 7-11 – Titanic Light Show, Belfast:
A visionary light show to showcase the new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction. There will be a spectacular launch event on April 7, followed by an installation over a number of evenings.
April 12-13 – MTV Music Event, Belfast:
MTV returns to Northern Ireland after 2011’s EMA awards to deliver a major outdoor music event on the Titanic Slipways as part of the centenary celebrations.
April 14 – Titanic: A Centenary Commemoration, Belfast:
A gala commemorative event at Waterfront Hall, this will showcase the city’s Titanic story, narrated by a host of the UK’s most famous cultural icons.
April 22-May 19 – Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912), Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast:
Based on the emotive verbatim testimonies heard at the Titanic Inquiry in London in 1912 after the ship sank, Owen McCafferty’s courtroom drama is full of intrigue and human frailty.
June 21 – Peace One Day Concert, Londonderry:
On Mid-summer’s day, the biggest names in music kick off events for the London 2012 festival in Northern Ireland, as part of the Cultural Olympiad, with acts, such as Massive Attack (left).
June 30 – Land of Giants, Belfast:
Land of Giants will celebrate iconic Northern Ireland giants with a spectacular show featuring music, acrobatics, pyrotechnics, special effects and a cast and crew of over 500, all in front of an audience of 20,000 on Belfast’s newest events space, the Titanic Slipways.
July 5-8 – Clipper Homecoming Maritime Festival, Londonderry:
The Clipper Round The World Yacht race will make its homecoming leg from Nova Scotia to Northern Ireland, arriving in the Maiden City in late June 2012 and welcomed by a four day maritime festival.
July – Peace Camp:
Glowing installations will appear from dusk until dawn at locations around the coast as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
August-September – FLAGS by Hans Peter Kuhn, The Giant’s Causeway:
As part of the unveiling of the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre and the London 2012 Festival events, FLAGS by Hans Peter Kuhn, is an installation using the dramatic landsacpe of the spectacular causeway (left).
September – BBC Titanic Proms, Belfast and across Northern Ireland:
A large scale celebration of the voices and music of Belfast highlighting the rich heritage across Northern Ireland.
October 19-November 3 – Belfast Festival at Queen’s, Belfast:
Celebrating its 50th anniversary the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s will see the usual array of arts to tantalise the tastebuds.
For further information, log on to www.discovernorthernireland.com/ni2012