Ben Cowser was born in 1897 in Kilkeel, and after education at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and training with Belfast architect Thomas Houston, Cowser worked briefly with Tulloch and Fitzsimons in Belfast.
Cowser set up his own practice in 1933 on Donegall Square North, Belfast, and went on to win the design competition for Portstewart Town Hall. In addition to the North Street Arcade, Portstewart Town Hall, the Masonic Hall at Enniskillen and the Vogue Cinema in Kilkeel have all been statutorily listed by the Department for Communities in recognition of their architectural value.
The site on which North Street Arcade was built, between North Street and Donegall Street, was originally occupied by small businesses and the Brookfield Linen Company. In 1936 the Linen Company buildings and other properties were demolished to make way for the North Street Arcade.
The construction of the building was from high-end, luxurious materials and it was initially not successful due to high rents. After the Belfast Blitz and World War II, the arcade became successful, however, the building sustained damage from bomb attacks during The Troubles and subsequently fell into decay.
In May 1990 the building gained Grade B1 listed status and by the early 2000’s the building had developed into a creative hub. In 2004, the buildings’ owner William Ewart Properties, had plans to regenerate the area. In the same year the building was subject to an arson attack and was badly damaged. Development proposals for the area included two options to retain the facade of North Street Arcade or to incorporate and refurbish the building. The regeneration scheme became known as Tribeca Belfast and faced criticism for its lack of consideration for small businesses and respect for Artistic and Architectural heritage. The building remains vacant and derelict today.