Much bigger thinking needed for Iconic Fort George site

Fort George proposal.
Fort George proposal.

After receiving a variety of proposals for the site, the Department for Communities (DfC) and the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) announced in February this year that they had entered into an agreement to enable the Trust to further develop the proposal of locating a new Cityside Health and Care Centre at Fort George.

Our Story to Tell

Derry has a rich and extensive maritime heritage from the first emigrant (Colm Cille), through to the arrival of both Vikings and Normans and on to the emigration of nine million people from the North West travelling to Great Britain, across the Atlantic to North America and Canada and farther afield to Australia and New Zealand.

The Maritime and Emigration museum will tap into the life stories of the adventures, challenges and successes of those who left Ireland via the North West.

In addition to the history of emigration, there was a significant trade industry operating from Derry-Londonderry, from ship-building to exporting linen, livestock, crops, coal and even ice.

Derry was a key port during the Second World War, providing the most important export base in the UK (with more ocean-going ships based there than Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast combined) and was the location for the official surrender of the German U-Boat fleet.

Our rich story is largely unknown on home shores never mind on the global stage. The Walls of Derry are a major tourist attraction, but they are just one piece of a much bigger narrative that is ready to be told.

We have ready-made links to every major tourist hub in the world and we need a much more ambitious vision on how we attract those markets.

International Maritime and Emigration Museum

Our proposed Flagship International Maritime and Emigration Centre is an £80m iconic tourism project as part of a £150m-£200m mixed-use development scheme that would also include:

* Architecturally significant world class museum with immersive digital technology attracting approximately 400,000 visitors per annum

* 5-star hotel overlooking the river

* Public realm development

* Office space incorporating a technology /R&D hub

* Two major residential blocks with carparking.

This site facilitates access to cruise ships and would offer an additional docking attraction for the 100+ ships that currently bring c. 200,000 visitors to Belfast Harbour each year.

This project would bring significant local, regional and national economic and tourism benefits including:

* Approximately 550 new ongoing direct employment opportunities

* Hundreds of development phase job opportunities

* Benefits for local businesses from visitor spend in the area.

A New Tourism Pillar for the North of Ireland

We have seen in the last decade a transformation of our tourism product across the North of Ireland. Titanic Belfast has become a world leading tourism attraction with over 800,000 visitors a year, The Giants Causeway attracts a million visitors every year and the Wild Atlantic Way has provided 2,500km’s of tourism opportunity for the west coast of Ireland.

Our tourism statistics show that there were almost 5 million overnight trips (2.7 million by external visitors) in Northern Ireland in 2017 with associated expenditure estimated at £926 million. This is the highest estimate of external visitors on record (3% increase on 2016).

We believe now is the time for Derry to take its rightful place as an iconic destination, creating a 4th Signature Tourism Pillar. We want to attract visitors already making the trip to the North of Ireland to extend their journey to the North West, as well as enticing new markets.

A rising tide can lift all boats and the opportunity is there for us now at Fort George to think big and to create a catalyst project that will transform our city forever. We support completely the need for a primary healthcare hub but there are site options for this and now is the time to correct our course.

For more information on the International Maritime and Emigration Museum, sign-up at http://eepurl.com/gl4lEL