Work starts on King's Hall health and wellbeing park in south Belfast
Work has begun on the King's Hall in south Belfast to convert the building and the surrounding land into a 'wellbeing park'.
Contractor H&J Martin will carry out the construction work on the building, which has been vacant since 2013.
Plans will see it transformed into a health centre with the first phase to include the development of Dataworks, a new medicine hub designed to draw data-focused medical companies.
NI company Diaceutics, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has already signed up as an anchor tenant for 10,000 square feet of space.
The extended site - formerly the Balmoral Showgrounds - will also include care for the elderly and assisted living accommodation, a mixed-use medical facility and a multi-storey car park.
Benmore Octopus, the company behind the development, is a joint venture between Benmore Group, which is based in Northern Ireland, and Octopus Real Estate. A planning application for the site was submitted last year.
A spokesman for developer Benmore Octopus said discussions were taking place with healthcare providers interested in letting space. Research carried out on behalf of the developer has said that when complete, the health park would boost the economy by £47m annually, while supporting 640 "full-time equivalent jobs".
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Total investment in the refurbishment of the existing building and construction of new properties is expected to reach £88.5m.
David Burrows, a director at Benmore Octopus, said: "The start of construction at the King's Hall Health and Wellbeing Park marks a milestone on our journey to create one of the most innovative healthcare hubs in the UK and Ireland.
"We are particularly delighted to be protecting and enhancing the iconic King's Hall building, one which will sit at the centre of our plans for the park as a proud asset for the city."
Ashley Heath, healthcare property director at Octopus Real Estate, said: "We are hugely excited to have started the construction phase of the project and look forward to breathing new life into an iconic Belfast site."
When the planning application for filed for Benmore's complex, Mr Burrows told the Belfast Telegraph that he hoped GP practices located nearby would take up space within the main building.
And he said a retirement village on the site would address "outdated" housing choices for the over-55s.
"I think we are currently under-serving that population. Once retired and when the kids move away, this generation wants better options of places and life."
He said the project was "truly innovative". "We're confident there's nothing like it in the UK, and we don't think there is anything like it in Europe." he added.
Octopus Healthcare has secured over £267m of transactions into the UK elderly care home sector over the last 12 months.