Plan to buoy Titanic Quarter

Caroline Parry, Issue 118/03, p11, 01.03.2018
Development strategy reveals plan to create cohesive destination to appeal to tourists, while better serving locals. Caroline Parry reports
Plans for an outdoor museum, a “maritime mile” walk and the restoration of former shipping buildings have been unveiled as part of a major development strategy to boost Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

Published at the end of January, the Titanic Quarter Destination Plan aims to create a more cohesive destination that will appeal to tourists, while also better serving the needs of the local community. It is being spearheaded by the Titanic Foundation, which is consulting with a range of local partners.

Kerrie Sweeney, the chief executive of the Titanic Foundation, a charity set up in 2008 to oversee the development of Titanic Belfast, says: “No one realised how successful Titanic Belfast was going to be – it has exceeded all predictions. The plan’s aim is to take a step back to look at that success and how we can maximise it for the benefit of everybody.”

Titanic Belfast has welcomed more than four million visitors from almost 150 countries since opening in 2012. Figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions show that in 2016, Titanic Belfast was Northern Ireland’s most popular visitor attraction with 679,690 visitors. It was followed by the Giant’s Causeway, operated by the National Trust, with 660,674 visitors, and Ulster Museum, part of National Museums Northern Ireland, with 460,028.

Three key themes

The development plan highlights 12 short to long-term projects focusing on three key themes: improving access to the site from the city, as well as between the on-site attractions and facilities; boosting the visitor experience by creating a more distinctive brand for the area, improving the environment through further development and creating more reasons to visit, such as an events programme; and undertaking an audit of the heritage assets to ensure they are protected and restored.

Sweeney expects progress to be made on the maritime mile, which will run along the waterfront from Donegall Quay to the mouth of Belfast Lough, and outdoor museum this year.

The outdoor museum and signs highlighting heritage features will aim to better showcase the history of the whole area, as well as to address visitor comments that the existing attractions do not feature enough artefacts.

“We do say it is built on the artefacts,” says Sweeney. “The original docks are still here and the offices where the Titanic was designed are still here. The whole site is an artefact in its own right.”

The restored Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, which are now a four-star hotel, contain about 60 artefacts donated by the public in its heritage rooms, which are open to visitors.

Sweeney says donations are still coming in and the foundation is building up a collection. “We are trying to see if we can find a way to display that through an outdoor museum,” she adds.

Developing new sites

The plan also sets out an ambition to create a cluster of visitor attractions by restoring further sites. One idea under discussion is the possibility of moving part of National Museums Northern Ireland’s Transport Museum to the area.

The area’s long-term success depends on the heritage development complementing the commercial activity that is also part of the 185-acre site earmarked for regeneration under the plan.

“We are a charity sitting alongside private developers,” says Sweeney. “They see it as a major regeneration project, while from our point of view, it was the world’s largest shipyard. Hopefully, in the future, we will be an example of best practice in that kind of partnership.”