£2m facelift will restore Queen's Arcade to its Victorian splendour
IT was once described as the city's most fashionable promenade, a place for the well-heeled merchant class of Belfast to do their shopping.
Now the former splendour of Queen's Arcade, Belfast's last surviving Victorian arcade, is to be restored by its owners, family-run jewellers Lunn's, who have applied for planning permission for a £2m refurbishment.
The elegant structure was designed and built in the 1880s by James McKinnon on behalf of client George Fisher.
In the 1930s the arcade was renovated to fit gentleman's tailor Austin Reed, while shopfronts were redesigned by Frederick Sage & Co, whose other clients included Harrods and Selfridges.
The arcade, between Fountain Street and Donegall Place, is now home to well-established businesses like Lunn's flagship store, gift shop Little Heart and Queen's Cafe Bar and Inn.
Lunn's said the businesses will be able to remain open during the work, which is likely to overlap with the refurbishment of the historic Bank Buildings, which was ravaged by fire at the end of August.
Lunn's chairman Peter Lunn said the refurbishment of the arcade would bring hope to the city centre after the Primark blaze.
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"Queen's Arcade has been a much-loved part of Belfast for almost 140 years and this £2m restoration will ensure that it remains a popular Belfast landmark for generations to come.
"While modern alterations have helped obscure what an architectural gem the arcade is, the proposed restoration will recapture its Victorian splendour and reputation as a home to specialist retailers.
"The recent destruction of the Bank Buildings has been a horrendous experience for city centre retailers, but this city and its people are resilient and we have a vision for its future.
"We believe Queen's Arcade has a big role to play in bringing people back into the city centre."
The arcade is around 80% full, and a spokesman said two luxury brands, which cannot yet be identified, were due to open soon.
It is also to become home on a temporary basis to Abacus Beads, an independent retailer inside the safety cordon of 14 shops surrounding Bank Buildings that had to close following the fire.
Lunn's plans to restore original iron signage and the old facade at Donegall Place, as well as putting down a new Italian terrazzo floor and creating new shopfronts.
But the company said it will also strip out less sympathetic additions made to the arcade dating back from the 1970s and 1980s, and restore the arcade's vaulted ceiling.
The project is being led by a designer who has worked on the K Club in Co Kildare, and architects Consarc, which worked on historic buildings like Belfast's Grand Opera House.
Mr Lunn added: "This restoration has been a long-held ambition and we have worked hard with heritage architecture specialists Consarc to develop sympathetic proposals.
"Our aim is to enhance what already exists and much of our inspiration has been drawn from photography dating back as far as 1885.
"Our ambition is to make sure Queen's Arcade is synonymous with elegance, providing a beautiful space that restores its purpose as a home for luxurious but also accessible retail."
If the project gets planning permission, work is expected to take place outside trading hours between January and May next year.