New future for Mackie's thanks to £9m centre
Northern Ireland's rich industrial history will be adapted to the present day as part of the former Mackie's site in Belfast is transformed into a £9m business hub.
Belfast City Council said its new innovation centre at Forth River Business Park could support up to 400 new jobs, with 40 firms already involved in the early stages of the project.
Machinery firm Mackie's was one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers with up to 7,000 staff until it folded in 1999.
Now funding of £4.15m to give its old site a new lease of life has been secured from the European Regional Development Fund, while Invest NI is spending £2.1m.
Work began earlier this year, and the council hopes tenants will begin to move in from mid-2016.
The site, with 12 acres of space which can be let to companies, is owned by Invest NI.
Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson said: "I'm delighted by how far work has come on in just a few short months, and excited by the opportunities this landmark project opens up for the city.
"Belfast has a rich history of innovation - air conditioning, the pneumatic tyre and defibrillators were all invented here - but today's entrepreneurs lack the purpose-built space needed to develop their own world-class ideas.
"This investment will bridge that gap, providing dedicated support and facilities for the next generation of 'bright sparks' across a range of sectors, all within a stone's throw from Belfast Met's E3 campus and only 3km from the city centre."
He said the project was a "pivotal" development for the surrounding communities and would help jobs and communities who had suffered from unemployment, poverty and segregation.
Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said: "This is a significant project which has the potential to stimulate investment in the area and act as a catalyst for developing the wider site around Forthriver Business Park.
"Once open, the new innovation centre will not only provide an attractive meeting space for entrepreneurs and growing businesses but create opportunities to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among young people in the local community."
The steel structure of the building is now in place and community members are being asked to share stories and memories of the Mackie's site.
Declan Boyle, chairman of Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee, said: "As well as employing 45 people during construction, the innovation centre has directly benefited local people by providing eight apprenticeships, three student placements and 72 weeks of employment for those without work or who are classed as economically inactive."