Derry must show it is an excellent place to do business when it is in the City of Culture spotlight, business leaders have been told.
Speaking at the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Friday night, Vice President Philip Gilliland, who will be President during 2013 City of Culture year, said the city must maximise on the opportunity.
He told Chamber members that City of Culture designation means much more than increasing the capacity, ability and success of our tourism industry and enhancing the reputation of the city as a major centre of arts and culture.
“The principal legacy of the City of Culture will be the permanent establishment of Derry as a place for talented young people to choose to study, live, work and start a business. For maximum effect, 2013 has to show the world that Derry is creative, constructive, global and confident.
“I have no doubt that the year in this respect will be good – but the challenge before us all is to make sure the year is more than good – to make sure it is excellent,” Mr Gilliland added.
He highlighted the importance of “tangible marketing” of the city not only in Northern Ireland but in the Republic and in Britain.
Mr Gilliland added that the city centre must be supported to maximise opportunities offered by City of Culture and to withstand its current challenges. He said: “2013 needs an animated and vibrant city centre: excellent and innovative retail, cultural and night-time attractions, and an improved public realm. There is no doubt that there are challenges for independent retailers and that rates of city centre vacancy are too high. We continue to view the sheer volume of out of town planning applications with concern.”
But he also highlighted many tangible positives ahead of 2013. “The public realm work that has been completed along the Foyle has met with universal acclaim, and there is more to come. We welcome the impending - if belated - lighting of the Walls. And most importantly: visitor numbers are steadily increasing. Last year there was a 19% year on year growth; this year will probably be at least as good. So our challenge is to find modern and engaging ways to part our visitors from their cash. There is opportunity there.”
Mr Gilliland ended his speech with a strong call to politicians to provide the means for Derry-Londonderry to grow its economy.