Boules, Greek-style restaurants and outdoor movie nights – this is Belfast city centre, but not like you’ve never seen it before.
These are just some of the plans for the coming weeks and months, according to the general manager of the Linen Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) group.
Linen Quarter BID is an independent, not-for-profit that seeks to bring improvements to the area, such as parklets – which are essentially curbside parking spaces converted into public seating platforms – and improved lighting , murals and installations.
It is governed by a board of directors made up of local organizations in the region. It is funded by the public and private sectors, as well as by the third sector, namely charities and community organizations.
Linen Quarter is located behind City Hall.
Over the past twelve months, some of Linen Quarter BID’s work includes setting up three parklets, planting in several areas, and setting up more walkable areas.
In the coming weeks, a new social hub called FLAXX is set to open in Blackstaff Square. A section of the street has been pedestrianized and there will be a bistro set up in a shipping container, outdoor seating, an outdoor stage and a playground.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Chris McCracken, chief executive of Linen Quarter BID, shared the team’s vision for the region.
“For decades we’ve created city centers around cars, but there’s a shift in the public mood now where we want to create a people-centric city,” he said.
“That means more walkable spaces, cycle paths and outdoor hospitality. 10 years ago, no one really thought about outdoor hospitality here, but since the pandemic, people want to embrace it.
“Together with City Council and the Department of Communities, we have co-funded £500,000 for a revitalization scheme. We also worked with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), as the road authority, to install three parklets. One is outside the BBC building and has benches and stools for people to sit and have tea and coffee or work outside. Opposite, we have installed a fresco on the theme of innovation.
“Innovation is one of the three characteristics of the Quartier du Linge, the others being transport and the hotel industry. These parklets are included, you don’t have to buy anything to use them. We’ve also done a lot of new planting, like in Blackstaff Square, where our biggest facility, FLAXX, is.
For FLAXX, the BID worked with DfI, which closed a 43-metre stretch of road to create an outdoor social space. It has about 200 “covers” (an indication of table capacity) and also bleacher seating around the perimeter.
“There will be a Greek cuisine offer, a Mediterranean atmosphere. We will also be using the space for other events, it’s not just food and drink,” Chris said.
“For example, we hope to do outdoor yoga on the deck, perhaps with a healthy breakfast. We are also planning to have an outdoor cinema weekend, perhaps themed around musicals, because we have the Grand Opera House and Ulster Hall nearby, so there is that musical tradition of the region.
“For the play space, there are a lot of offices in the neighborhood, so we want to encourage people to go out during lunch or after work and have a social game with friends.
“We are in the process of building an outdoor French pétanque court in Blackstaff Square. This is inspired by other cities, like London, which have a bowling alley…
“Blackstaff Square has been allowed to decline over the past few decades, so we want to move it away from a place notorious for anti-social behavior to a vibrant, hospitable and social space.”