Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Continuing saga of North Street Arcade, Belfast

THE CONTINUING SAGA OF NORTH STREET ARCADE AND ITS MANY FRIENDS.

Recently there was the launch of alternative plans for the Cathedral Quarter drawn up by Arts and Heritage groups. The launch received a fair amount of media coverage, with the main spokesperson being Martin Lynch. The launch was well attended by people from the Cathedral Quarter. Mr A Elliott turned up as representative of Ewarts PLC the property developers. Ewarts own North Street Arcade and a lot of other buildings in the area. In there plans for the massive redevelopment of the area that they wanted to knock down part of the Arcade. Just so you would be able to get to their new multi storey car park. The Friends Of North Street Arcade were one of the groups who did not get an invite, or were even aware the event was taking place. They were very sorry to have missed having a chat with Mr Elliott and hope to have a meeting with him in the near future.

This group started out as three people who wanted to have a permanent monument or wall mural erected in memory of the arcade. Just to remind people that the arcade was burnt down by arsonists using Blast Incendiary Devices on Saturday 17th April 2004, during the ceasefire. The Arcade was built in 1932 and was one of the finest examples of Art Deco in Ireland.

In the last few months the group has grown to twenty- seven members and they hope to be opening their own office next year. Like the former tenants of the arcade, the group consists of an eclectic group of people from all walks of life: everything from punks to civil servants. Its chairman is Colin Wilson a deeply committed Christian and ecologist. The one thing that they all have in common is the desire to try to keep the spirit of the arcade alive.
They also would like to see the criminals responsible for the burning down of the Arcade brought to justice as soon as possible. They are very secretive about their future plans, but do promise something special to mark the first anniversary of the fire.

One of the original aims was to have parties; nights where everyone from the arcade and their friends could get together to swap news etc. The first one was called “Burnt Out But Still Smokin’” a Sixties & Seventies night. They had six DJ’s and the Front Page donated twenty-four bottles of wine. The hundreds of invitations were everywhere and said No Arsonists or Property Developers Allowed In. The second one was called “Solidarity With The People Who Were Burnt Out”. Songclub Ernesto Che Guevara an eight piece socialist band from Dresden, Germany, played. The eight-piece band sang in eight different languages. As the band played, someone painted slogans on the new shutters that covered up the existing graffiti. The third party was called “Burnt Out But Still Singing”, another fantastic success with twelve singer songwriters. The next is the “Burnt Out But Still Rocking” party in THE JOHN HEWITT, Donegal Street on the 18th November. The bands are VELMA and TIN POT OPERATION two of the best up and coming indie bands around. All the parties are free. The next one will probably be called First Christmas Burnt Out. In the New Year the group will be organising fund raising gigs.

For the 5th of November (Guy Fawkes Night) they put up a big sign with the outline
of a man hanging on a rope. The slogan was HANG THE ARSONISTS and the people who
pay them. Patrons of the John Hewitt will tell you that tourists loved to get their photo’s taken beside it. Unfortunately it was taken down in the early hours of Saturday 13th by persons unknown. Another one is planned for December this time its. MAKE MY CHRISTMAS - HANG THE ARSONISTS.

For some reason the developers had a change of heart about their plans to build their multi storey car park. They now want to give a donation to The Cathedral Quarter Festival who lost their offices in the fire. Maybe they would like to give a donation to the many businesses
who lost everything, with no compensation from anyone? At one time they were going to sue over an article in The Sculptor arts magazine, but we haven’t heard any more about that. The police inquiry into the fire has yet to result in charges being laid. Sooner or later the law must change so that people just can’t get away with burning down this country’s heritage. They cannot be allowed to get away with it again and again.

There are now plans to redevelop the Smithfield area. By a new group calling themselves Smithfield Central Ltd. But to some of us they a not so new, its just the name is different.
And guess what there will be loads more car parking spaces. Are these people taking the piss or what? Eamon McCann has already flattened the historic Elephant Bar. He was unavailable for comment, because he was away in his house in Italy. Is nobody going to stand up to these people? The Belfast City Centre cannot be just several large shopping centres. Watch out traders in Smithfield market the developers are on their way. But when
They arrive at the gates of heaven they won’t be asked how much they saved? But how much they gave and then are told to go to hell.

Another listed building the Queens Building in Royal Avenue was also a target for arsonists recently. Fat cats get fatter, and who put the residents of North Street Arcade out in the cold? And does anybody really care.

Maybe its time we got some real politicians in the City Hall before they turn it into a shopping mall.

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Blogger David said...

http://kerrscorner.blogspot.com/2006/04/up-in-smoke.html

Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Up In Smoke

A few weeks ago the newspapers and television were full of a 'good news story' - the ambitious redevelopment of Lower North Street and Donegall St. The stories were full of reports of how rundown this part of the city centre has become, full as it is of derelict and abandoned buildings. These reports concentrated on the news that Brown Thomas - the Harrods of Dublin - will be opening a big store on the site of a derelict shopping arcade. It's wonderful they gushed, as all these jobs will be coming to the area, bringing investment and new life to the area.

Regular readers of Kerr's Corner will remember how this area got rundown. On April 18th 2004 the North Street Arcade burned down. North Street Arcade - a listed building - was the home of many of Belfast's small traders and businesses. Among the victims of the fire was Terri Hooley's Cathedral Records, Kozo Paper, the Arcadia Cafe and Rip-off clothing.

This fire was not the result of an electrical fault or an accident of some kind. It was malicious. Arsonists gained entry to the arcade and had the time to place enough incendiary material to destroy the place, all the businesses in it and the livelihoods of many of the traders who kept shops there.

There is no doubt that the wonderful North Street Arcade could still be restored to its original splendour. The blueprints for its construction in the 1930's are still extant. However there's no chance that this will happen. The owners of the arcade, Ewart Properties who have also bought up much of the rest of the property in the area that the press describes as rundown, won't entertain it. Their vision for the future of the area has no place for small traders or for the atmosphere of genuine community that the arcade represented. In fact it's likely that some of the small businesses who managed to relocate elsewhere in North Street, Donegall Street or Haymarket may be forced out all over again to make way for the likes of Brown Thomas and the big multiples. They will be the only ones able to afford the high rents in the new properties. The jobs that are created will hardly offset those that are lost and the businesses that will go to the wall.

No-one has been brought to justice for the arson attack on North Street Arcade although the PSNI are still investigating it. The small businesses that were burnt out have been refused compensation by the Northern Ireland Office as there is no evidence that the attack was carried out bu three or more persons. This is a disgrace and the former traders in the arcade
are not taking it lying down.

Recently Big Lite Films launched a DVD outlining the plight of the arcade traders. Up In Smoke offers a tour of the arcade in good times and the aftermath of the fire. It was launched in the John Hewitt at the same time as Big Time (to be reviewed in the next issue of The Wizard). Professionally mixed by Biggy Bigmore whose recording studio was lost in the fire, it packs
lots into twelve and a half minutes of video footage, before and after still photos and a stylish and witty musical soundtrack. I thought the line 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' from Big Yellow Taxi was very apt.

Copies of Up In Smoke are available from Gemini DVD & Video, Haymarket Arcade, Royal Avenue for only £5.00 each.

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