(Mayor Cahill and Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir in front of the Skainos Square building in east Belfast. Skainos Square, part of the East Belfast Mission, gives organizations a place to meet, congregate and hold professional conferences with quality, professional space and equipment. Skainos represents transformation and renewal for the community and its functions.)
Last year, at the invitation of Mayor Jim Cahill, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, visited New Brunswick. The two mayors recognized that both Cities have undergone major transformations in becoming modern, thriving 21st century urban centers resulting from major redevelopment in the areas of education, business, housing, the arts, hospitality and healthcare.
Francis Schott, part-owner of the restaurants Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi here in New Brunswick, points out what is especially unique about these two Cities is that these major redevelopments “are not about buildings, but about people, culture and opportunity.”
Francis Schott and Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir originally met when Mr. Schott received the “Serving America” award from Irish American Entrepreneurs and Mr. Ó Muilleoir was at this same awards dinner as the publisher of the Irish Echo. The Irish Echo is the most read Irish-American newspaper in the United States. From their discussions, Mr. Schott recognized the common pulse of life and energy between the Cities of Belfast and New Brunswick.
At the invitation of Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir, Mayor Cahill recently led a delegation from New Brunswick, comprised of representatives from Rutgers, DEVCO, George Street Playhouse, the New Brunswick Jazz Project, local businesses, and City government, to Belfast. The ambitious agenda of the three day visit was designed for the New Brunswick delegates to meet their counterparts in Belfast to explore the potential of developing mutually beneficial partnerships within their respective areas of interest and expertise.
Belfast is also a university city. Belfast has two universities: Queen’s University Belfast has approximately 30,000 students and the University of Ulster will soon have 15,000 students on its Belfast campus. Of course, New Brunswick is home to Rutgers University and its now nearly 60,000 students with the merger of RU with UMDNJ and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Particular initial areas of interest between the higher education communities of both Cities include medicine, cancer and gene research involving diverse populations and specialties in the biomedical fields as well as engineering.
Richard Edwards, Rutgers University’s Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, described the trip as fantastic. He noted, “The psychology of movement for the elderly and applications for athletic endeavors is currently being researched among a faculty member from Queen’s University and a faculty member from Rutgers University.” Mr. Edwards also toured facilities, specifically Belfast’s Cancer Institute and said, “They are doing cutting edge research and this would be the kind of research that Rutgers would be interested in.” The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, calling New Brunswick home, makes the educational exchange between Belfast and New Brunswick even more mutually beneficial for educational research and healthcare developments.
Chris Paladino, President of New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), got to work with both the business and University communities in Belfast. Strong parallels could be drawn from the Titanic Quarter, a massive redevelopment project underway, taking advantage of Belfast’s history as one of the world’s great shipbuilding centers and site where perhaps the world’s most famous ship, the Titanic, was built.
And like DEVCO’s current $300 million College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative, Belfast is soon to experience a several hundred-million dollar project in the development of a new, expanded Ulster University campus. Approximately 20,000 faculty and students, and all activities from the University of Ulster that are currently based out of the nearby suburb of Jordanstown, will be relocated to Belfast by 2018. This is similar to the projects here where biotechnology and engineering companies are encouraged to invest and move to New Brunswick where regeneration is thriving and students are learning and growing. According to Mr. Paladino, “We have already benefitted from the exchanges of professional ideas and see long lasted possibilities for the future.”
DEVCO’s Belfast counterparts were most interested in the comprehensiveness and diversity of New Brunswick’s revitalization and the key role DEVCO has played in projects like Gateway Transit Village, The Vue, The Heldrich, the renovation of the Post Office and the Middlesex County Courthouse, Civic Square, New Brunswick High School, Lord Stirling School, and many more.
“Throughout the City of Belfast, its citizens are investing in the community,” said City Council Vice President Kevin Egan. “Run-down buildings are being transformed into activity centers for young people to take part in like skateboarding and areas for the community to come together.” The synergies between Belfast and New Brunswick are so simply stated and emerge through examples like Mr. Egan’s Belfast experience. Redevelopments like the Hub City Teen Center which continues to evolve for youth recreation like the current indoor soccer complex being built to be used for both indoor soccer and baseball, New Brunswick Public Schools working as recreational activity centers after school, and the Promise House sheltering victims of domestic violence and providing services for their success are examples of how “Belfast and New Brunswick remember their past to recreate their future,” said Mayor Cahill or like Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir states, ‘Building the future Belfast – together.’
Both Belfast and New Brunswick understand that the arts are not only good for the heart and soul of a community, but are also good drivers for business as well. Theater, visual and performing artists, historical landmarks, and a vibrant hospitality and entertainment industry bring outsiders in and keep locals coming back for more in both locales.
“Mayor Cahill and Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir are two visionary men that have so much in common,” says Mr. Schott. “I am eager to see this relationship continue and being among the first incoming trade missions to Belfast in 20 years is something New Brunswick can take pride in, pushing our City to keep making the community as a whole and each of its working parts of education, business, housing, the arts, hospitality and healthcare working together.”
Mayor Cahill said the participants in the Belfast exchange from New Brunswick will meet again to share a debriefing on each of their respective experiences while in Belfast and to determine and develop areas of future programming that will be of interest and beneficial to New Brunswick, its residents, businesses and organizations.
But no one is letting any grass grow under their feet. Already, New Brunswick’s Jazz Project is looking to host and arrange for a concert venue for the 64 member Belfast Community Gospel Choir later this year in May. The New Brunswick Jazz Project is looking at collaboration opportunities with our City’s gospel choirs and other local musicians.
No City taxpayer funds were used for the trip to Belfast. Among those in the City delegation were Mayor Cahill, Tom Loughlin (City Administrator), Michael Tublin (Director of International Programs and Co-founder of New Brunswick Jazz Project), James Lenihan and Virgina DeBerry (also of the New Brunswick Jazz Project), Mitchell Karon (New Brunswick Parking Authority Executive Director), David Saint (Artistic Director of George Street Playhouse), Greg Ritter (Chairman of New Brunswick City Market and owner of George Street Camera), Francis Schott, Richard Edwards, Chris Paladino, and Kevin Egan.
(Picture of Belfast Choir Performing for New Brunswick Delegation)
(From Left to Right:
The Consul General, Gregory S. Burton, at the U.S. Consulate in Belfast with Francis Schott, Lord Mayor and Mayor Cahill)