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Down Arts Centre Renovation Now Underway
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The ‘first sod’ has been turned on the £1.4 million development project at Down Arts Centre.

With support from public funding, building has commenced at the landmark building of the Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick.  Local people and tourists alike are set to benefit from an enhanced cultural tourism experience with a range of new services and facilities thanks to the refurbishment and extension of the centre literally in the heart of the town.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; and Down District Council have invested £1.4million funding for the capital project.

The Arts Centre occupies the old Town Hall/Assembly Rooms in Downpatrick. Built in 1882, and designed by the celebrated Belfast based architect William Batt in a Ruskinesque Victorian gothic style, it has been described as, “One of Batt’s best compositions and one of Downpatrick’s most memorable buildings. Ask anyone what building epitomises Downpatrick for them and most will say the Assembly Rooms.”

ooking up for the arts. Down District Council Chairman Councillor Eamonn O’Neill with Siobhan McCauley, NITB Director of Product Development and Janine Walker, Arts Council NI Board Member in Down Arts Centre looking over the works in progress.

Operating as an Arts Centre since the early 1990’s, the building hosts a full year round programme of events, performances, workshops and classes and is the key driver of the cultural infrastructure in Down District.  The capital project will:

*  Make the building more visible

*  Make the building more legible

*  Improve the visitor experience

*  Allow for growth in programme and visitors

Extensive works are underway to both the exterior and the interior of the existing arts centre, which is a Grade 2 listed building.  A two storey annex on Scotch Street is also being constructed, along with a complete refurbishment of the interior space.

Chairman of Down District Council, Councillor Eamonn ONeill, turned the first sod of the £1.4 million renovation and development project at the historic Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick on Thursday 3rd February.

Speaking on site, Down District Council Chairman Councillor Eamonn ONeill said, “I am delighted to see the commencement of works for the extension and renovation of Down Arts Centre. I very much look forward to the opening of a new 21st Century facility which will not only breathe new life into these old Assembly Rooms, but will provide a wonderful environment in which to nurture and showcase arts and culture in Down district.”

The key funders, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who have provided £600,510 of funding and Northern Ireland Tourist Board, who have provided £390,572 to the project, were also on site to celebrate the start of the build.

Ian Davison, Down Council Senior Arts Officer with Council Chairman Councillor Eamonn O'Neill looking over the progress in the Down Arts Centre.

Janine Walker, Board Member, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said, “As the principal funder of the capital project at Down Arts Centre, the Arts Council keenly awaits the opening of the new centre.  The Arts Council’s sustained approach to investing in the arts infrastructure has had a transformative effect on the delivery of arts in communities across Northern Ireland.  The much-loved Down Arts Centre will be transformed into a vibrant, multi-functional space that the local community can feel really proud of.”

Siobhan McCauley, Director of Product Development, NITB, said, “Down Arts Centre already draws a diverse range of visitors, from those who come for music to those who want to learn a craft and participate in workshops. This improvement work will help to bring Downpatrick’s wider story to life, encouraging more people to visit and participate, investing even more time and money in the area.

“Downpatrick is a vital part of the Saint Patrick’s Signature Project, and I am delighted that NITB have been able to support Down Arts Centre through Tourism Development Scheme funding of £390,572.”

Once completed, the new building will provide an exciting multifunctional centre with a ground floor art gallery; an upgraded auditorium; bespoke space for workshops and classes; a cafe and bar; a retail space and a bookzone to showcase local literature.

An independent economic appraisal of the project detailed a number of benefits and opportunities for growth that the redevelopment of the Arts Centre will provide.  It is estimated that the new centre will see an increase in visitor numbers from 32,000 to 58,000 per year and will increase the tourism spend to the local economy to £216k per year.

The Down Arts Centre is currently undergoing a major renovation and refurbishment which is expected to be finished in June 2011.

While the building work is taking place, it’s business as usual for Down Arts Centre. The centre will continue to run their usual arts programme and box office.  The new building is scheduled to open in June 2011.

TOTAL PROJECT COST £1,367,565:-

*  Arts Council of Northern Ireland contributed £600,510 through its National Lottery funded Capital Programme. The Arts Council is the lead development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland.  It is the main support for artists and art organisations throughout the region, offering a broad range of funding opportunities through its Treasury and National Lottery funds

*  Northern Ireland Tourism Board contributed £390,572 through the Tourism Development Scheme (TDS). TDS recognises the central role that visitor attractions play in making Northern Ireland an attractive destination. The main aim of the scheme is to help local tourism projects, within the five Signature Projects, improve their tourism offering and provide a high quality visitor experience. NITB’s Tourism Development Scheme is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.

*  Down District Council contributed £376,483

Proposed plans for the building:

1. Extensive works to the exterior of the existing Arts Centre (a grade 2 Listed Building) to include:

*   Stone and brick restoration works

*   Exterior lighting to highlight this landmark building

*  Creation of a new “customer friendly” entrance on Scotch Street

2. Complete refurbishment and refitting of the interior spaces to include:

*  Upgraded auditorium including retractable bleechers seating

*  Ground floor art gallery

*  Bespoke space for workshops and classes including a dedicated ceramics studio

*  Retail/gallery space displaying the best in local and region craft product and housing Bookzone, a showcase for Northern Irish literature and poetry.

3. The construction of a two storey annex on Scotch Street. This will house a ground floor café/bar and a first floor multi-function space for workshops, performances conferences and events.

The Design team for this capital project is led by Kriterion Conservation Architects and the main contractor is Mascott Construction.