A controversial new £29.5 million extension to Belfast’s Waterfront hall was officially unveiled on Friday, 18 months after work began on the major upgrade.
The improved conference facilities are expected to generate around 50,000 delegate days by 2020 generating up to £100m for the local economy.
Representatives from the hospitality, tourism and business sectors, along with a cast of young performers, joined Lord Mayor Arder Carson at the opening ceremony.
Thirty international and national conferences have already been confirmed for Belfast Waterfront over the next three years with the first major event - the International Surgical Congress of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland - next month.
The extension project has been funded by Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund.
Enterprise minister Jonathan Bell said: “I have no doubt that these new facilities will enhance Belfast’s reputation as a key national and international conferencing destination, as well as developing the local business and leisure tourism sector.”
Despite the celebrations around Friday’s launch, not everyone has welcomed the new look centre.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) said it is “particularly disappointing” that the Waterfront’s distinctive circular exterior had been lost.
UAHS chief executive Nikki McVeigh said: “This is particularly disappointing when more sympathetic proposals may have been presented for consideration.”
Ms McVeigh said the building which is too new to be eligible for protection as a listed building, has become “a key aspect of the city’s heritage and identity,” and added: “The value it represents to local people is evident in the attention this alteration has received. The value of our architecture, our heritage, socially, environmentally and culturally, must not be overlooked.”