'We Are Not Tribeca!': In Belfast, Battle Over a Neighborhood Rebranding

Rendering of Belfast's Garfield Street, part of the planned redevelopment of the city's Cathedral Quarter. Credit: Castlebrooke Investments

Jan. 09, 2019

Tribeca is giving the people of Belfast an identity crisis.

It began last November when a developer announced its “Tribeca” branding for a £500 million ($640 million), 12-acre redevelopment and restoration project in the heart of Northern Ireland’s capital, an area called Cathedral Quarter. Castlebrooke Investments advertises that Tribeca Belfast, to be a mix of residential, commercial and retail uses, will have “international heart, Belfast soul.”

“I’m sorry but this is Belfast not New York,” the city’s mayor, Deirdre Hargey, responded in a tweet. “We are proud of our city, its people, its place names and its heritage, that’s what gives Belfast its soul!”

“The problem with Tribeca is it is trying to be a poor copy of somewhere else,” City Councilor Lee Reynolds, a vehement opponent, told BelfastLive.

The developer tweeted this BBC report as evidence of support for the Tribeca brand.

On Monday, the Council passed a motion to oppose the branding, though it has no authority to ban it. “It’s a bit of an affront that suggests we’re just not good enough, that we have the name of a place that does not belong to us,” a Councilor argued during the debate.

Some defended the Tribeca branding. “It takes a vibrant, attractive city [like Belfast] to be able to throw away the comfort blanket…and say we can take our place amongst the other cities in the world,” said a Councilor, quoted in press reports. “Ironically, by being able to choose the name Tribeca, which is obviously connected to New York City, we’re actually showing that.”

The developer says that its Tribeca does not stand for Triangle Below Canal, but Triangle Beside the Cathedral. Cathedral Quarter, site of the project, is adjacent to the late 19th-century St. Anne’s Cathedral. Tribeca, a company executive told the BBC, “resonates with the international community.

“We are hugely disappointed that Belfast City Council chose to debate the Tribeca Belfast brand rather than focusing on the positive impact the regeneration will offer the city,” the developer said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Opponent Conor Shields reads his poem in the Belfast City Council.

From racehorses and rap artists to bars, bracelets and yachts, the Tribeca brand went global more than two decades ago. “The name has an ultra-cool, hip and happening feel to it,” the Los Angeles designer of the Tribeca necklace once told the Trib. Now, a marketing video for the Tribeca development in Belfast, poetically voiced-over by the actor Jamie Dornan, features a montage of such “hip” and young, fun imagery.

The developer’s sales pitch-as-verse prompted an opponent, Conor Shields of Save CQ (#WeKnowWhoWeAre), to offer a five-and-half-minute “poetic counterblast of his own, delivered during the City Council debate.

“We are not Tribeca!” Shields entoned, raising his voice dramatically with the concluding four lines. “The name will not last/We are CQ, Cathedral Quarter/The historic heart of Belfast!”