There was a major boost for Portadown this week with the announcement of a £100,000 grant which will be used in an ambitious extension plan for Millennium Court.
Portadown 2000 has been awarded the money by the Department of the Environment to buy the derelict Old Methodist Church and Manse in Thomas Street.
The group plans to turn the listed buildings into a lecture theatre, meeting rooms, office space and heritage projects as part of a major development plan for Millennium Court.
The Thomas street site backs onto land at Millennium Court and the whole project could take five or six years to complete.
Brian Walker, chairman of Portadown 2000, has yet to receive official confirmation but said it was a “real achievement” after a long period of trying to obtain funding.
Mr Walker said they had previously been turned down by the council.
He paid tribute to the Hamill family, which bought the buildings from the bankrupt Thornton’s Trust, and owns a pharmacy on the opposite side of the street.
The Hamill family had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Portadown 2000 that it would keep the buildings until the development group was in a position to buy them.
Said Mr Walker, “Without the generosity and the public spirit of the Hamill family this would never have happened. This is part of a wider plan to regenerate the town centre for the benefit of everyone.”
The funding, which will help Portadown 2000 buy and conserve the buildings, was announced by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan under a grant scheme run by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
The former Methodist Church and Old Manse were listed at grade B1 in 1981. The former church has been vacant since the mid-1980s when Thornton Wholesale Food Distributors left the building.
The Thornton Trust went into insolvency in 2010 with debts of £12m, leaving a number of derelict and unfinished building projects across Portadown.
The Minister said, “Today’s announcement is a significant boost for Portadown’s built heritage. These buildings have been vacant for a long time but are a hugely important part of the town’s historic building stock.
“This will be a very public use for these buildings, highlighting the rich architectural heritage of Portadown and contributing to its economic and cultural renaissance.”