Belfast appoints City Centre Night Czar

Belfast’s three city Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) – Linen Quarter BID, Belfast One, and Destination CQ have announced Michael Stewart as Belfast’s city centre’s first Night Czar. The appointment which follows a competitive five-week process will see him tasked with the crucial role of enhancing and leading on the night-time economy.

Michael’s career spans more than three decades including leading roles in some of the city’s most successful bars and clubs. He is currently the Director of Common Market Belfast and runs his own consultancy and training business for the hospitality trade, Bar Czar Limited. Michael also served two-terms as the President of Belfast Chamber and is currently Board Director for Eastside Partnership – a local charity leading the regeneration of East Belfast. His extensive experience will lend itself to the Night Czar position focusing on enhancing, coordinating, and advocating for the city’s night-time strategy in terms of safety, transport, and business.

Northern Ireland’s night-time economy is a significant driver for economic impact within the region. According to The Night Time Industries Association’s 2024 Night-time Economy Report, consumer spend for NI’s night-time economy was £3.3bn with total consumer spend across the UK at £136.5bn. The report also revealed that employment within the industry was over 2m across the UK.

The Night Czar role is funded by Belfast’s three city BIDs and supported by the multi-agency Purple Flag steering group, which includes key stakeholders such as Belfast Chamber, Hospitality Ulster, Belfast City Council, PSNI, SOS Bus, and Translink.

Michael said, “This is a significant appointment and I’m proud to serve as an advocate and voice for Belfast city centre’s night-time economy. This role provides a unique platform working with key partners to address critical issues impacting our city centre, ensuring it remains a vibrant and dynamic destination after hours.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to play a part in shaping the city’s night-time strategy and look forward to collaborating with night-time workers, businesses, and key city centre stakeholders to drive meaningful change that will not only enhance the night-time experience across the city centre but contribute to its ongoing success, charm and appeal for all.”

Night Czar

The Night Czar position follows appointments in cities such as London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. The honorary role offers up to £12K per year and duties will be carried out in addition to Michael’s current roles.

Chris McCracken, Managing Director of Linen Quarter BID, said, “I’m delighted that the three BIDs can collectively announce the appointment of Belfast’s first city centre Night Czar. This initiative has been part of an ongoing civic conversation since 2017, and we are excited to finally realise the ambition for our city. Michael is a talented operator with a proven record of success across Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry. His experience spans an impressive 38 years and he brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the role that will undoubtedly provide a substantial boost to Belfast’s city centre’s night-time economy.”

Key responsibilities of the Night Czar include acting as central point of contact for night-time services including hospitality, venues, transport, and policing as well as advocacy and lobbying for statutory agencies. The part-time role will also provide expert insight to inform the development, support, and enhancement of Belfast’s night-time sector, contributing to initiatives such as Purple Flag – the national accreditation scheme. One such challenge is the need for improved late-night transport services – a crucial element in transforming Belfast’s night-time economy.

Eimear McCracken, Operations Manager at Belfast One, adds, “Michael’s appointment marks a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to enhance our night-time offering and address pressing issues affecting our city after hours. Belfast city centre is a significant driver within the Northern Ireland economy and is one of the number one night-out spots with thousands of locals and tourists visiting daily. We are confident that Michael will not only support and elevate the vibrancy of our nightlife but also tackle key challenges, and ensure Belfast city centre remains a thriving, safe, and welcoming environment for both residents and visitors.”

Earlier this year, Belfast once again received the Purple Flag accreditation, recognising its commitment to a well-run, safe, and thriving night-time economy. Cities and towns awarded the Purple Flag are recognised for providing a vibrant and diverse mix of dining, entertainment and culture while promoting the safety and wellbeing of both visitors and residents.

LIVE, the trade body for the UK live music industry, recently reported that Belsonic and Emerge generated more than £30 million in 2023 and created almost 6,000 jobs, with substantial numbers travelling from Australia, the USA and mainland Europe.

Damien Corr, Managing Director of Destination CQ, expressed his enthusiasm for the appointment. He adds, “Drawing inspiration from the successful models implemented in cities like London, Manchester, and Edinburgh, this position will be instrumental in ensuring that city-related concerns do not go unheard and will actively help us review the city between 6pm and 6am. A thriving night-time economy is not just about entertainment but also the overall economic landscape of the city. To gain a deeper understanding of the scale, scope, and economic impact the three city BIDs will be commissioning new research to assist the Night Czar in providing valuable insights to guide our future initiatives and contribute to the ongoing success of Belfast as a dynamic city.”

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