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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 March 2008, 06:50 GMT
Victoria Square 'new era for NI'
Victoria Square shopping centre
Victoria Square is Northern Ireland's largest retail-led regeneration
The Victoria Square development marks "a brand new chapter in the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland," outgoing First Minister Ian Paisley has said.

The newest landmark on the Belfast skyline opens to the public on Thursday, increasing the amount of shops in the city centre by one third.

The House of Fraser store is the UK's biggest, while Urban Outfitters and Apple are among its 98 shops.

Other outlets including an eight-screen cinema will not be opening until June.

The complex also contains 106 apartments as well as restaurants, bars and cafés.

The Jaffe Fountain at Victoria Square
1.8 hectres of land
17 different buildings
98 shop units
106 apartments
1,000 car parking spaces
3,000 construction staff
3,000 retail staff

At the top of the centre's distinctive dome, there is a viewing zone which provides panoramic views of the city.

The £400m regeneration connects the city centre with the newly redeveloped Waterfront area.

Mr Paisley was making his first public appearance at the complex's launch since announcing on Tuesday he would step down as first minister and DUP leader in May.

He said the development was proof Northern Ireland's urban areas "are once again becoming the engine of economic and social progress".

"This magnificent regeneration scheme not only places the city at the top of the UK agenda for retail investment, but will help to attract significant investment and prosperity for years to come," he said.

Belfast has well and truly stepped out of the shadows of its past
Margaret Ritchie
Social development minister

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said at the launch he was "struck by the magnificent surroundings".

"They quite literally give concrete expression to the growing optimism, confidence and hope for the future that exists within our society today," he said.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said it showed Belfast "has well and truly stepped out of the shadows of its past".

Victoria Square shopping centre
The dome provides panoramic views of the city
"Developments such as Victoria Square are bringing a new confidence to our urban centres, thanks to the peace dividend," she said.

T+T Design, the architects of the project, have created two covered multi-level streets linked by the massive glass dome.

The Jaffe Fountain, constructed in the 1870s, has been restored at the entrance to the centre in honour of the leading Belfast Victorian businessman.

Work on building the centre began in April 2004, and developers say they expect 17.2 million visitors per year.

It is expected that 3,000 people will be employed in retail, security and services once the centre is fully open.

Project leaders Multi Development UK have revealed that they are currently looking at other projects in Northern Ireland.

Conor Macauley reports from the opening ceremony

The explosion which made way for Victoria Square

Complex question of who loses out
06 Mar 08 |  Northern Ireland
In pictures: Belfast's new centre
05 Mar 08 |  In Pictures
Victoria Square set for opening
05 Mar 08 |  Northern Ireland
Landmark building is demolished
21 Nov 04 |  Northern Ireland

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