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New dining and nightlife hotspot planned for ‘neglected’ Belfast district as £3m ploughed into city centre

Leisure group Vertigo to spend £3m in a district which has drawn around £111m in other investments

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Vertigo Group has bought over a number of units in Royal Avenue in Belfast

Vertigo Group has bought over a number of units in Royal Avenue in Belfast

Gareth Murphy, Vertigo Group,

Gareth Murphy, Vertigo Group,

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Vertigo Group has bought over a number of units in Royal Avenue in Belfast

Leisure group Vertigo is the latest entity to plough money into the CastleCourt area of Belfast city centre as Ulster University sets up nearby.

Vertigo Group, led by Gareth Murphy, is investing £3m in total including on its purchase of the site of Haymarket bar and nearby units on the corner of Royal Avenue and Gresham Street.

It follows the announcement of the £100m Belfast Stories museum by Belfast City Council at the corner of Royal Avenue and North Street, one of seven projects to be supported by the Belfast Region City Deal.

And at CastleCourt Shopping Centre itself, £11m is being invested in a new retail, entertainment and shopping complex, which won planning permission this month.

Vertigo already owns leisure businesses We Are Vertigo in Newtownbreda and Titanic Park, as well as outdoor hospitality venue Cargo by Vertigo.

Belfast Telegraph revealed Vertigo’s plan to buy the Haymarket site from owners including lottery winner Peter Lavery in September.

Vertigo said it had invested £1.5m in the site already but would now invest another £1.5m for hospitality venues, bars and restaurants on the site, where some units have been vacant for some time.

It has submitted plans for the development with Belfast City Council. The site is in the area dubbed Smithfield and Union.

The new venues will bring 40 new jobs, while it’s expected that 40 would be supported in the construction process.

Vertigo Group chief executive Gareth Murphy said: “The plans we have for the rejuvenation of the Royal Avenue and Gresham Street site are really exciting and breathe life into an area of the city which has long been neglected.

"Following the success of Haymarket, we plan to create a dining and nightlife hotspot with several restaurant and bar areas within the site catering to a variety of different customers.

"Through the project we hope to attract footfall to the Union and Smithfield area and to attract more investment into expanding the city’s night-time economy.

"The location will further benefit from Belfast City Council’s plans to build the ‘Belfast Stories’ cultural hub in the former Bank of Ireland building on the opposite corner, drawing additional footfall to the area.”

Belfast Chamber of Trade chief executive Simon Hamilton welcomed the news of a further investment in a previously neglected part of the city centre.

"This is a very up and coming and exciting part of the city centre and the investment in the new Ulster University campus, followed by CastleCourt and Belfast Stories, are all interconnected.

"It’s clearly a part of the city centre that has seen better days. But now there’s huge investment and huge interest going on, and that’s only going to attract more interest and more investment to the area.”

However, he said other improvements were needed to the streetscape of Royal Avenue. “The private sector is putting its money where its mouth is.

" But we need to see the public sector coming in behind that and for public realm work to begin as this will be the main thoroughfare into the city centre for 15,000 students.”

Mr Murphy added: ““Our commitment to the development of Belfast as a leisure and tourist destination is at the heart of our organisation and we are thrilled to be rejuvenating such an iconic area.

“We have taken care to ensure that the regeneration plans maintain the integrity and celebrate the history of the site.

"This city is full of stunning architecture and a rich history, and as part of our plans we have included tributes to the area’s past to preserve and honour that history.”

Parts of the nearby Cathedral Quarter were also due to be transformed into a district to be known as Tribeca, by developers Castlebrooke. In December, Castlebrooke said it was still “committed” to the project.

Ulster University is gradually relocating much of its operations to a new campus at York Street close to Royal Avenue, where 15,000 students will be based.


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