Waterfront Hall extension: 'Sore on the Shore' turning into our Lagan Love with 200 days to opening
The dust hasn't settled on the new £29.5m extension to the Waterfront Hall just yet.
With 200 days to go until it opens, a 'topping out' ceremony was held yesterday to celebrate the completion of external work.
The project has sparked controversy and some have even dubbed it the "sore on the shore" but from the inside, you can already get a sense of the impressive scale of the new venue.
Building work is on course to be completed by the end of the year but Hall 1, the biggest space, already has a nine-metre high ceiling and 1,805 square metres of floor space.
The vast space, which will seat up to 2,000 people, is bright and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow some of the 55,000 expected conference delegates annually to catch a glimpse of the River Lagan that flows just below.
Hall 2 is a similar space with an even better view, as the windows run along one side of the room.
Most of the space at the back of the original circular building was used for offices and there was only a small section where guests could see the river that gave it its name.
Peter Minnis, director of Todd Architects and Planning, explained: "It's called the Waterfront Hall, but nobody could get a view over the water other than at the glazed curved section. This building readdresses that."
The new building will have four doors allowing a "more circular flow" around the building, as conference delegates will be able to walk right around the two interconnecting halls, three meeting rooms and a new reception area and then straight into the existing facilities in the Waterfront Hall.
Although the inside is spectacular, it's the outside that has been attracting attention over the last few months as the building has started to take shape.
The new "Box on the Docks" and the "Sore on the Shore", as some have dubbed it, is a very different style to the circular, stone-clad Waterfront Hall, which opened in 1997. Standing on one of the two small roof terraces, it is clear the view along the riverside has substantially changed, as the new building dwarfs the original.
But yesterday, architect Mr Minnis defended the design: "The brief was almost to add the King's Hall on to the side of the Waterfront, which is a challenge when you've got the Hilton Hotel and the River Lagan beside you.
"We wanted something that was going to be consciously different, because you can't mimic the hall. It's a building of its time, so we tried to respect it. We kept the height of the building down so you still see the dome above, but it gives it its own presence. People were judging the building maybe before it was finished; hopefully when people see the finished building, they'll appreciate it."
Despite the controversy, the world-class facilities have already attracted a lot of attention.
Around 25 international and national conferences are already booked, with the first, the International Surgical Congress of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, to take place next May.
The project will cost a total of £29.5m, with £11m provided by Belfast City Council, £14.5m from the European Regional Development Fund and £4m from Tourism NI, and is expected to bring many benefits to Belfast.
Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson said: "The building is going to bring 55,000 delegates to the city every year.
"It's also going to create about 1,500 new jobs across hotels and the hospitality sector. It's going to generate over £100m in the first five years. It's a brilliant thing for the city."