Plans have been announced to introduce shopping areas at the Guildhall and Tower Museum, as it emerged over 300,000 people visited the two buildings during 2015.
Proceeding with a business case and architect drawings with a budget of £10,000 was recommended to the local Council’s Business & Culture Committee at its February meeting on Tuesday.
Experts will now be tasked to come with ideas for installing better retail and merchandise facilities at both key city centre tourist attractions.
Derry City & Strabane District Head of Marketing Linda Williams said officers were seeking permission to tender for a detailed plan on how to deliver “professional retail and merchandising areas within the Guildhall and Tower Museum”.
Councillors sitting in Strabane were told by Ms Williams that while the Guildhall currently has a tourist information point at its main reception area, this will no longer required when the new ‘Visit Derry’ office is relocated from Foyle Street to Waterloo place this year.
She said: “This will allow for a larger retail and merchandising area to be installed at the Guildhall. The retail space at the Tower Museum will also be further developed to coincide and compliment this.”
Council officers said they envisaged that the new retail space will lead to increased visitor numbers and income, as well enhancing the customer experience upon visiting the two heritage sites.
It will also create business opportunities for the arts and craft industry locally, Councillors were told.
In a separate report presented to the committee yesterday it emerged that 312,704 people visited the Guildhall during 2015, up 5% on last year.
At the other end of Guildhall Square meanwhile, the Tower Museum saw visitor numbers increase by around the same margin to 22,749 last year.
Among the top nationalities presenting at both the Guildhall and the Tower Museum were people from America, Northern Ireland and the Republic, England, Germany, France and China.
In terms of income, the Tower Museum tallied £52,873 for 2015, a rise of 14% on 2014.
The Guildhall, which was hired out for numerous events and festivals last year, reaped an income of almost £94,000, up by almost 10% on the figure for 2014.
Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue expressed concerns that there might be a knock-on impact on the business sector in the same area, some of which offer tourist gifts.
“With small retailers we have heard they are trying to get by.” she said.
SDLP Councillor John Boyle concurred, saying that a scoping exercise was needed and that it may in the end conclude that the retail plans may not proceed.
“Is the offering the Guildhall going to be the same as what will be in place the new visitor services centre at the former Ulster Bank?” he asked.
Ms Williams responded that this would only involve specialist merchandise unique to the local tourist offering and would actually involve local cultural businesses.
She also said that there would be close contact to ensure there was “clear blue water” between what was being offered at the various different facilities, with no overlap with local businesses.
Colr. Logue proposed the council proceed with the project, seconded by Colr. Boyle.