Posted on Wednesday 22 June 2011 byUlster Business
Titanic Cabins - the Fit Out
With less than a year before the Titanic centenary work is progressing on the landmark Titanic Belfast tourist attraction. Ulster Business got an update from the chairman of Titanic Foundation Ltd, the charitable trust charged with delivering the building
It's fair to say a lot is riding on the success of Titanic Belfast.
The £97m tourist attraction, formerly known as the Titanic Signature Project, is seen as the centrepiece of Northern Ireland's future tourism strategy and a must see destination in Belfast that will complement the province's natural assets.
Ownership and responsibility for delivering the building and selecting a suitable operator rests with Titanic Foundation Ltd, a charitable trust set up by, but independent of, the funders – which include DETI, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council and the Harbour Commissioners.
Chairman of TFL Jonathan Hegan told Ulster Business that the building is "on programme" to be completed and fitted out for its opening on April 1, 2012.
"The vision for Titanic Foundation is to deliver a building which will celebrate our very proud heritage in maritime and industrial engineering through the story of Titanic, and to inspire future generations," he said.
"This building I see as being a real iconic image for Belfast. It has a unique design and I'd like to think that, a bit like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, whenever people see photographs of this they'll think of Belfast."
Hegan, formerly chairman of international consultancy RPS and the Institute of Civil Engineers in Northern Ireland, is well aware that there are those who will question the worth of Titanic Belfast if it doesn't meet its visitor targets.
"The aspiration is 400,000 per annum but I personally think we will achieve more than that. Certainly in the first year or two there will be a big curiosity factor. We have then got to keep it fresh and make it of interest for people to come back. There will be a big local interest but we are also trying to really encourage out of state visitors to come here," he explained.
"It is the sort of project that will push people in our direction, who maybe would like to see the Giant's Causeway and the Mournes but weren't sure they'd come to Northern Ireland just for that. Having a main focal point in Belfast could tip a lot of people in this direction."
Beyond the striking exterior the Trust knows that it is the experience inside the building that will decide how successful the attraction is. The state-of-the-art, six-floor facility will feature nine interactive galleries that tell the story of industrial Belfast, including a virtual ride through the Harland & Wolff shipyards of the 1900s, recreations of the fit-out of Titanic's cabins, in depth exhibitions on the inquiries held into its tragic sinking and an Ocean Exploration Centre, with exclusive access to footage from the wreck of the ship and live links to current marine expeditions being led by Dr Bob Ballard. The building will also house high end conference facilities and a banqueting suite, as well as cafés, restaurants and shops.
"I'm very conscious we live in a high tech world with social media like Twitter and Facebook. I would imagine that within minutes of departing people from the younger generation in particular will be on Twitter or Facebook telling friends about it. I want that to be a wow experience. If they come out of the building saying it is a bit disappointing we will have work to do," said Hegan.
There is of course competition for the Titanic legacy, most notably from Southampton, but the TFL board is confident Belfast has the strongest Titanic credentials.
"The Titanic was built here, we are constructing the building on the site the Titanic was built and it will overlook the slipways on which the Titanic and Olympic were launched. No other sites will have that to celebrate and boast of," said Hegan.
"While there will be other legacy projects, and Southampton is one, they will be celebrating the maiden voyage, whereas what we are celebrating is that the Titanic was conceived here, designed here and constructed here – this is its birthplace."
TFL's secondary objectives include community outreach and education, and it has already supported Dan Gordon's shipyard-set play The Boat Factory on a tour of the province. The Trust hopes this kind of activity will further encourage buy in to the Titanic project from the Northern Ireland public.
"It is up to us to provide a product that deserves the support of everyone. We have got to make sure that this building does not attract negativity in any shape or form, only positivity. I'd like people to be coming along and thinking this is inspirational, isn't it terrific that Northern Ireland can do this, and to be proud of it."