Belfast Stories: plans revealed to turn listed Bank of Ireland building into catalyst for tourism

The redevelopment of a Belfast art deco landmark has been revealed as the flagship project in a tourism and regeneration drive for the city.

By Graeme Cousins
Friday, 17th December 2021, 1:35 pm
An artist's impression of the Belfast Stories development
An artist's impression of the Belfast Stories development

The listed Bank of Ireland building in Royal Avenue has been acquired by Belfast City Council along with the surrounding 4,000 square metre site and will be turned into a £100m Belfast Stories development, due to open in 2028.

The art deco building, an homage to the Empire State Building in New York, was completed in 1931.

Known to locals as ‘The White Bank’, it closed its doors in 2005.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Kate Nicholl (centre) with Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council and Richard Williams, Chief Executive of NI Screen, at the Bank of Ireland building on Royal Avenue, Belfast. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

In 2012 the building was, for a short time, taken over by squatters from the Occupy Belfast movement.

The new visitor attraction in the former Bank of Ireland building is one of seven regeneration projects that will tell the stories of Belfast and its people.

It will also include a new state-of-the-art, multi-screen cultural film centre and public spaces for events and ongoing programming.

The announcement follows the signing of the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) earlier this week.

Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl said: “This 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.

“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.”

Another ambition of the project is to be a sustainable, zero carbon, climate resilient exemplar for the city and region.

Options for renewable energy solutions including the feasibility of geothermal energy sources are currently being explored.

A green rooftop urban park is also being considered as part of the early project plans offering panoramic views across the city.

Belfast City Council chief executive and chair of the BRCD executive board Suzanne Wylie said: “This is a transformative project, not just for our city centre, but for the entire region.

“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.

Richard Williams, chief executive of NI Screen, said: “We have a wonderful opportunity to seek out and curate the stories of our city for a new audience, and ensure they are preserved for future generations.

“Today’s stories are, after all, the stuff which legends are made of, and it’s time that we celebrated Belfast for all its complexities and be proud of this city we call home.”

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