15-19 William Street South & 1-7 Montgomery Street comprises a group of buildings constructed in phases during 1883 – 1909 for William A. Ross & Co. Ltd, mineral water manufacturers.
William Adolphus Ross (1817-1900) acquired the site in 1879 following employment as managing director at Cantrell & Cochrane. Ross established his own soft drinks business; William A. Ross & Co. Ltd, and by November 1879 the firm was reportedly producing nearly 30,000 bottles a day and exporting to the United States, West Indies and Africa. Ross’s Royal Ginger Ale was the firm’s principal product and for some time the company traded as ‘The Royal Belfast Ginger Ale, Mineral & Aerated Water, and Cordial Manufactory’. Other products included soda water, lemonade, potash water, seltzer, sarsaparilla, Lithia, Vichy water, aromatic bitters and cola. The firm used wells located on the site which sunk to depths of up to 420ft.
The firm appointed Robert Graeme Watt to design a new warehouse at 1-7 Montgomery Street. The three-storey building was built in 1883 and on completion measured 100ft x 30ft. The building included a distinctive ‘tudoresque dutch gable and oriel window’ at the corner of William Street South and Montgomery Street.
During 1902 the company replaced existing buildings at William Street South with a new three-storey warehouse. The addition was also designed by Robert G. Watt (although this time as part of Watt & Tulloch). McLaughlin & Harvey carried out the building works.
Watt & Tulloch designed an office extension to the rear in 1909. The building contract (£23,015) was awarded to Robert Corry and completed in the same year.
By 1914 the firms largest export markets included the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The war years substantially reduced export trade although the firm recovered and continued to trade from William Street until 1975 when the building was sold and production moved to Ravenhill Avenue. The firm merged to become Ross Cochrane & Co. Ltd until Cantrell & Cochrane (C&C Group) acquired the remaining assets of Ross Cochrane & Co. Ltd in 1986.
During the late 1970s and 1980s the building was known as Central Arcade and hosted a collection of local retailers including Crazy Prices and Stewarts Winebarrel.
The buildings were listed in November 1988 and are currently recorded as B2 listed (HB26/50/177).
Ewart PLC acquired the complex and submitted a series of planning applications in 1988 and 1989 to alter, extend and refurbish the building. Work to convert the building into a shopping centre took place during 1990 – 1991 (z/1991/2101). The £5m project was designed by Ostick & Williams and Ferguson & Wheeler. The three-storey shopping centre opened in 1991 as Ross’s Court and comprised 44 tenants during the early 1990s. The top floor was a foodcourt fitted-out in decorative brass and wood.
Ewart gained vacant possession of the centre in August 1997 following a buy-out of the remaining tenancies for £300,000 and in January 1998 the developer announced that the entire building would be let to Argos.
During 1998 Ewart invested £1m preparing the building for Argos. William Ewart Properties Ltd leased the building to Argos Distributers Ltd in October 1998 for a period of 25 years at an initial rental of £350,000 p/a, rising to £400,000 p/a in the fifth year. The 55,000ft2 Argos store opened to the public on Monday 26th October 1998.
The Irish Times reported in March 2001 that Ewart had agreed to sell the building for £6.3m and noted that the building was valued at £1.9m prior to refurbishment and letting to Argos.
The freehold and leasehold transferred from Ewart Property Holdings Ltd to Smyths Toys Ltd in May 2001.