In August there was a bit of a stir caused by this photo that we blogged up with the Waterfront before and after the new conference centre was built. Yet today Belfast City Council invited us along to see for ourselves to see how progress was being made 200 days out from the opening of the new centre.
Many people (myself included) were sceptical about the design and approach of putting a conference centre here when another one for the Titanic Quarter is also set to be built. When we were briefed by the architects about the design they pointed out that the new conference centre actually fixes a key flaw in the current Waterfront Hall which is that very little of it faces the River Lagan and the new centre will have views of the water for delegates to enjoy.
Another aspect of the design that I was keen to probe was the multi-coloured cladding around the centre which apparently was decided upon in order to brighten up the building and absorb some of the light.
Points about the new centre;
- It has a total cost of £29.5 million. £11 million is being provided by the council, through its Investment Programme for the city, £14.5 million from the European Regional Development Fund, through the EU Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and £4 million from Tourism NI.
- The conference centre aims to generate £100 million return for Belfast over a five year period, and create over 1,500 new hospitality and retail jobs, by attracting 55,000 conference delegates by 2020
- The council says the new facility will create 1,500 jobs in the hospitality and tourism sectors.
- The first conference in the new centre will happen on 11th May 2016.
There you have it. Time will tell whether all of this works in practice, but the council and Waterfront staff seem confident that they can deliver bigger conferences with this investment.
Just 200 days to go until lift off…..
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs