Viewpoint: Lottery cash can float Titanic plans
Nearly a century after the Titanic took shape in Belfast, she is the inspiration of an exciting new project that could put the city on the world tourist map - provided the Big Lottery Fund gives its approval.
That is the importance of a visit by fund representatives, assessing whether to invest the final £25m towards the £90m plan, covering an area twice the size of the City Hall.
Already there is a promised £65m in the kitty, with the Northern Ireland executive contributing £32.5m over three years, a sum that matches a commitment by Titanic Quarter Ltd and Belfast Harbour Commissioners. All depends on the Big Lottery Fund, which ultimately depends on the public's pounds, saying that the project has attraction and staying power.
From the pictures, the stainless steel building that would contain both the Titanic exhibitions and the story of Belfast looks unusual enough to fire the imagination of tourists and natives alike. A derelict area, down-river from the Odyssey, would be transformed and plans for the first phase of the £3b Titanic Quarter project would be complete. Belfast would acquire a new waterfront development, near the city centre, and apartments and commercial buildings would follow.
As the lottery representatives study the case for the signature building, they will have to decide on its merits as a long-lasting tourist attraction. Certainly it must be ready in time for the centenary of the Titanic's fatal voyage in 1912, when 1,500 lives were lost, and the displays of images and artefacts must be state-of-the-art, in keeping with the expectations of today's and tomorrow's tourists.
In every way possible, the experience of travelling in the Titanic will be reproduced, and thankfully there is a reminder of Belfast's shipbuilding tradition in the tender, Nomadic, saved from the breakers' yard by a combination of government money and local enthusiasts' enterprise. Only weeks ago, a Titanic exhibition in Washington, DC, received rave reviews from visitors, confirming that interest in the tragic liner and the many books and films based upon her is undiminished. In America itself, there are several Titanic museums, with far less claim to the ship than Belfast.
With the ending of the troubles, and the world-wide publicity given to the unique power-sharing settlement between former enemies, there is bound to be an upsurge in tourist numbers. New hotels are being planned and visits by cruise ships are a regular occurrence. Now for the development of more indoor, as well as outdoor, attractions - and the Titanic experience is one that everyone, with an interest in history or human frailty, can learn from and enjoy.