The Tropical Ravine in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens will reopen to the public today following a £3.8m refurbishment.
Councillors, local residents, and a number of invited guests got a sneak peek of the new facility today to see first-hand how the listed building has been restored to its former glory thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Belfast City Council also invested £1.5m in the project and a contribution was made by the Friends of Botanic Gardens.
Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Nuala McAllister officially reopened the Tropical Ravine by unveiling a plaque alongside HLF chair, Sir Peter Luff.
Councillor McAllister said: “This was a mammoth task and was more than three years in the making but I think when people come and see it for themselves, they will agree it has been well worth the wait.
“The Tropical Ravine is a unique asset for Belfast and has always been a popular visitor attraction. Thanks to this spectacular makeover I have no doubt that it will continue to attract new visitors and will be a fantastic addition to our tourism offering.”
The listed building which dates back to 1887 has been restored with many of its original Victorian features reinstated and preserved.
The ravine has been split over two levels with an open reception area on the ground floor, and the building has been modernised to make it more energy efficient with new triple-glazed windows installed to retain heat and create the right environment for the tropical plants it is home to.
Councillor Nuala McAllister added: “Before work started on the Tropical Ravine, many of the plants were temporarily moved into the Palm House or rehomed at Botanic Gardens’ glasshouses. The large cycads that we couldn’t shift were covered and protected from reconstruction work and the cold.
Some of the plants are estimated to be over 150 years old so the restoration has been a remarkable feat in every sense.”
Visitors will now be able to learn about the conservation work and plant collection thanks to new interactive and digital exhibits. Accessibility has also been improved with the introduction of sensory facilities for sight and hearing-impaired visitors.
Sir Peter Luff, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, welcomed the reopening: “The Tropical Ravine is a true heritage treasure that rewards visitors with a unique, entertaining and educational experience. It is thanks to National Lottery players that the Ravine’s fine Victorian built heritage and hugely important plant collection have been preserved for the people of Belfast and beyond to enjoy for many more years to come.”
Mr Frank Caddy, Chair of the Friends of Botanic Gardens, which was closely involved in and contributed to the restoration project, said: “We are delighted, we have achieved so much more than the restoration of the roof which is what we began by lobbying for. The Tropical Ravine has been transformed into a fantastic visitor and educational space, an outstanding amenity that will last for future generations.“We look forward to many more people enjoying these new facilities,” he added.
Demand to see round the new ravine is expected to be very high, particularly over the next few days. And due to the nature of the building, the number of people that can be inside the ravine at any one time is limited.
There has been a lot of anticipation and excitement around the reopening of the ravine and people are very keen to come down and have a look round.
We are expecting a high volume of visitors over the weekend so are appealing to potential visitors to be patient as there could be queues.
For more information on the restoration project visit belfastcity.gov.uk/tropicalravine