Waterfront Hall unveils £30m revamp plan
Extension at city centre venue targeted at business conference tourism
One of Northern Ireland's best-known entertainment venues has been given the green light for a new extension worth nearly £30m.
The Belfast Waterfront Hall is to undergo a major revamp with the aim of making it a top-level international conference destination.
The £29.5m extension will provide new conference and exhibition space and is expected to be complete by early 2016.
Its first major conference is already pencilled in for late spring that year.
Announcing planning approval, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the facilities would increase the existing venue as well as incorporating new multi-functional, dining, office and storage space.
"This will be a real boost for Belfast. We already host major worldwide conferences. We can now build on that," he said.
"This extension to Belfast Waterfront will provide Belfast with an integrated conference/convention centre in the heart of the city. These state-of-the-art facilities will make Belfast one of the premium destinations for national and international conferences and will boost the development of business tourism in Belfast and act as a catalyst for wider economic growth across the city."
Mr Durkan said this will provide a boost to the economy "with numerous construction jobs in the short term and full-time permanent posts in the long term". Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon welcomed the planning approval.
"This is another important step for us and our partners in delivering world-class facilities and job-creation opportunities for Belfast," she said.
"By doubling the existing convention and exhibition space at Belfast Waterfront, we can build upon what is already a huge growth area for our economy and showcase Belfast as a destination of choice for conference organisers and delegates."
Funding for the extension is being provided by the European Regional Development Fund (£14.5m) and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, which is contributing £4m.
Belfast City Council has committed the remaining £11m.
Lee Reynolds, DUP chairman of the council's strategic policy and resources committee, said the "project will allow us to build upon our strengths, providing an economic boost which the whole city can benefit from".
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The new extension will provide an additional capacity of 4,000m to attract larger events. In keeping with the venue's contemporary style, the extension will integrate with the existing facilities and offer new exhibition and banqueting areas. Councillors believe the new facilities will enable the Waterfront to attract an additional 50,000 conference delegates yearly – twice the current rate.