Major office and retail development planned for Belfast's historic Smithfield area
New plans have been unveiled to transform a car park at Belfast's Smithfield Market into a multi-million pound office and retail development that could create 650 construction jobs.
The joint venture by Bywater Properties and Ashmour has earmarked a 1.25 acre site between Gresham Street and Winetavern Street, close to Royal Avenue.
Three new buildings are proposed, alongside the refurbishment of the listed Butcher's Building.
Around half the 235,000sq ft floor space being created will be dedicated for office use, accommodating around 1,500 people.
The remainder will be a combination of workshop, retail and co-working space that will seek to promote independent enterprise over multinational chains.
It's the latest in a series of projects designed to transform the Royal Avenue area of the city centre.
The £400m regeneration project formerly known as the Royal Exchange remains on the cards.
It involves the demolition of some buildings on Royal Avenue, paving the way for new office, retail and leisure space.
However, the demolition plans have attracted opposition, with the group Save CQ formed in opposition.
Developers Castlebrooke Investments claims the plans could create up to 6,000 jobs.
And the £300m Northside scheme for the area between Royal Avenue and Carrick Hill has been on ice ever since the former Department for Social Development pulled its backing in 2016.
The Smithfield proposal, which is operating under the working title of 'Building Blocks', would represent a major investment in one of the most neglected parts of the city centre.
The developers say their plan includes significant improvements to the public realm space around historic Smithfield.
Ashley Smith of Lisburn-based Ashmour said it wanted to rejuvenate the area, but also preserve the character of what was once a thriving hub of trade.
"We respect the city's heritage and culture and we want to preserve Smithfield's character and the life that's already there while investing to rejuvenate an area that has suffered from chronic under-investment for many years," he said.
Theo Michell of Bywater said the development won't target major multinationals.
"Smithfield has always been about small, local independent traders. We believe that it is important for the city to retain diversity, locating big businesses alongside small home-grown start-ups, independent traders and artisan makers," he said.
"Our aim is to champion the independents, not to attract multinational chains to fill standard shops. We believe larger businesses recognise these are the areas their staff want to work and socialise in, where there's life and vitality on the doorstep."
Bywater and Ashmour have also been involved in a £15m project to develop a building in Donegall Place occupied by Boots.