Northern Ireland

Can Belfast's Ormeau Road be restored to its former glory?

Stained Glass
Image caption A damaged stained glass window in the derelict Holy Rosary Parish Church on the Ormeau Road

Businesses along Belfast's Ormeau Road are hoping the sale of two prime property sites will give the road a much needed economic boost.

The former Ballynafeigh PSNI station and the long derelict Holy Rosary Church have both recently been sold.

News that the church has been bought by Tullymore House Ltd, has been welcomed by both locals and businesses in this part of south Belfast.

It is the company behind the Galgorm Spa and Resort and Fratelli.

Image caption Inside the dilapidated Holy Rosary Catholic Church which has been vacant for nearly 40 years

'Excited by the sale'

Tullymore House Ltd have said they plan to invest £1m to transform the church into their third Italian restaurant.

Project Manager Colin Johnson says when completed the restaurant will employ 30 people on a part and full basis with a further 30 employed during the reconstruction.

Down the road, Meabh Nichol has recently opened an art gallery and framers. Having moved back from London, she's "excited" by the sale and hopes it will be a catalyst "to draw more independent retail to the area".

Holy Rosary Church has been vacant and derelict for nearly 40 years. It opened in 1898 to cater for a growing Catholic population in the area.

Image caption Holy Rosary was given a Grade B1 listed status in 1986 but crumbled and decayed over time

Having served the people of Ballynafeigh and Rosetta for more than 80 years, it eventually became too small and in 1980 its congregation moved across the road to a bigger church in the Good Shepherd.

It was given a Grade B1 listed status in 1986 but crumbled and decayed over the next 30 years.

Two hundred metres down the road another site is set for redevelopment.

The local PSNI station sold to a private developer in December 2106. It closed to the public in February 2011.

As yet no planning applications have been made and it remains unclear as to what will become of the site.

Image caption Ballynafeigh PSNI station closed to the public in February 2011 and sold to a private developer in December 2016

'Golden age'

Nuala Walls runs a hair and beauty salon across the road.

Having set up her business at the end of the recession in 2012, she said transforming the site into mixed housing and retail would be great to increase footfall on the road.

The Ormeau Road has always been one of Belfast's main arterial routes. According to historian Eamon Phoenix, the Ballynafeigh area was "one of Belfast's first middle class suburbs".

He said at the turn of the last century, this part of Belfast was a "maze" of independent shops and businesses that reflected the "golden age of Belfast industry".

Image caption Old receipts showing the extent of the shops on the Ormeau Road in the early part of the 20th century

'Trend reversing'

However, this stretch of the road declined during the Troubles as people moved further out of the city.

As a result many of the independent shops began to disappear. That trend is now reversing and over the last number of years it has become one Belfast's up-and-coming streets for coffee-shops and eateries.

South Belfast has become one of the most politically and ethnically mixed areas of Northern Ireland. The 2017 NI Assembly elections returned five MLAs from five different parties.

According to local estate agent Michael Devlin the coffee shop culture is thriving with more and more outlets opening.

He believes it can continue to thrive and bring people that would never have previously come. However, he adds that "for new businesses, coming to the road, pure retail is a very difficult challenge."

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