Belfast is set to house a new multi-million-pound tourism attraction following the signing of the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) tourism and regeneration plan.

Expected to open in 2028, elements of the new £100m (€117.1m) Belfast Stories visitor attraction will be housed in the city’s art deco former Bank of Ireland building on Royal Avenue, one of Belfast’s most beloved heritage buildings. The city council acquired the site specifically for the project, along with the surrounding 4,000sq m site.

The city council says the listed building will be restored and the space around it developed “as part of the transformative regeneration project that will tell the stories of Belfast, the people and the place” through a new interactive visitor experience. It will include a new state-of-the-art multi-screen cultural film centre, ongoing programming, and event spaces.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Kate Nicholl said the announcement was a “significant moment” for the city and its future: “This is hugely exciting news for the city and I think today’s announcement marks a significant moment in our progress as a city, and the journey we have been on for the last number of years to tell the story of Belfast on a global stage.”

(Photo: Belfast City Council)

She adds that Belfast Stories will attempt to reflect the unique spirit of the city through a variety of media and immersive experiences. It will also apparently drive culture-led regeneration in the city by focusing on the people of Belfast and their stories.

“It’s an investment, not just in monetary terms, but in our people and the generations to come, and an important investment in our heritage and in our future,” said the Mayor. She adds that the project is set to help with the creation of new jobs and regenerating communities: “The project is not just about the city centre however – we will also be connecting it to the development of neighbourhood tourism.”

The project aims to be sustainable, zero carbon, and climate resilient, with options for renewable energy solutions potentially including geothermal energy sources. This is just a part of the city’s push towards new climate resilience strategy and a zero carbon roadmap, developed in the wake of Belfast declaring a climate emergency in 2019. The council is considering a green rooftop urban park offering panoramic views across the city, stressing that it is incumbent upon them to consider how new developments can be sustainable amid the climate change. 

In terms of cultural sustainability, the new film centre will showcase the best visual storytelling from Northern Ireland and around the world as well as supporting the skills and talents of local artists, supporting sector growth. It will also provide important access to Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive, allowing visitors to explore the country’s screen history and local stories in a year-round programme of talks and interactive events.

“This is a transformative project, not just for our city centre, but for the entire region,” said Belfast City Council chief executive and chair of the BRCD executive board, Suzanne Wylie. “I am delighted that now, with the signing of the Belfast Region City Deal, we can take the first steps on our journey to make this landmark tourism attraction a reality,” she added:

“The positive impact of delivering the Belfast Stories development will be felt for many years to come, with the seeds sewn now as we look ahead to opening the venue in 2028. I am immensely pleased that we are at this point in our BRCD journey and to have reached this important milestone.”

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