Listed building’s transformation into £100m visitor attraction is flagship project of scheme
An Art Deco-era building in Belfast which was once a Bank of Ireland branch is to be transformed into a £100m visitor attraction with funds from the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD).
Belfast City Council will on Friday give more detail on its acquisition of the listed Royal Avenue building and its 4,000 sq m site, which has been derelict since the mid-2000s, and its plans to turn it into a new attraction, Belfast Stories.
The listed building’s dilapidated condition has long been a sore point for fans of the city’s heritage. It was occupied in 2012 by the Take Back The City element of the Occupy Belfast movement.
Belfast Stories is the city’s flagship project within the £1bn BRCD. It’s due to open in 2028 and according to the council, will tell the stories of Belfast, the people and the place. There will also be a multi-screen film centre and public spaces for events.
It’s one of around 20 big projects to be funded from the BRCD, which has a reach far beyond the city itself. It embraces five other council areas including Newry and Mourne and Mid and East Antrim.
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said: “The BRCD partners are committed to delivering all of the projects outlined in the deal in the next 10 years and are well advanced in getting business cases approved and moving into delivery mode from the new financial year.”
The deal is to be funded by the UK Government and Stormont, providing £350m each, and £150m from other partners to the deal.
However, economist Dr Esmond Birnie of Ulster University said the amount of government funding was not transformative when spread out over 10 years.
Stressed that he was speaking as an economist and not on behalf of the university, which is a partner in the Belfast Region City Deal, Dr Birnie said: “It’s part of the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda and allows us to do a little bit more extra and that’s a good thing.
“But to put it into perspective, the scale of it isn’t that big when it comes to the wider picture.
“This isn’t game changer territory. It’s really just icing on top of the cake.”
However, he said the money would be useful and that Northern Ireland was an under-funded region.
He added: “Compared to the UK average, Northern Ireland’s relatively low investment per region and low research and development spending per person implies some rationale for projects which involve investment or innovation.
“And, at face value, many of the City Deal projects tick such boxes.”