The eyesore that could

06/14/2009 | By: Daxim Lucas, Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines – For three decades, one of the first images of Makati City’s supposedly cosmopolitan skyline that would greet travelers coming from the airport is the hulking eyesore that stood half finished near the Magallanes interchange.

And whether you’re a commuter approaching the commercial center, or a businessman being driven to the central business district, you simply could not escape the sight of that decrepit building at the busy corner of Edsa and Pasong Tamo Extension.

“If you’re a businessman or a tourist who’s just landed in Manila and are traveling from the airport, this is the image of Makati that will greet you,” said Alphaland Corp. president and COO Mario Oreta. “It was such a painful sight to behold and the image lingers with you.”

Until several months ago, the unnamed structure, with its rusty beams and half-baked structure, always seemed to be somebody’s unfinished business.

It was built in the 1970s by a Japanese car distributor to supposedly house offices, a service center and a high-end restaurant.

During the Marcos era, the would-be developer ran short of cash, and was forced to surrender the lot to the Philippine National Bank.

Then in the mid-1980s, it was auctioned off to the Puyat family, in whose ownership it stayed for two decades.

Enter Alphaland Corp.—one of the newest and most aggressive real estate firms in the country—whose chair and CEO Roberto V. Ongpin took an interest in the project in early 2008.

“He asked me one day what I thought of the building, and I said that I thought we could make it work,” Oreta recalls. Backed by the financial muscle of Alphaland’s partner, British fund Ashmore Investment Ltd., Ongpin, Oreta and the company’s vice chair Eric Recto negotiated long and hard with the Puyat family, agreeing finally on a P1.2-billion acquisition price. The group borrowed another P1.2 billion from the Development Bank of the Philippines to fund the rehabilitation and completion of the structure—a process that is now practically complete, with only the finishing touches left. Thus, what would have been one of the city’s first skyscrapers conceived in the 1970s, is now set to become one of its newest.Dubbed Alphaland Southgate, the project is composed of two structures.The Southgate Tower is a 20-story, glass-curtained building with 36,000 square meters of office space.

The Southgate Mall, meanwhile, is an 18,000-sq. m., six-story podium that will house retail and casual dining establishments.And just as one couldn’t miss the eyesore before, one also could not possibly miss the gleaming metallic blue building nowadays, especially with its three-story high LED display screens, one on either side of the building, which are visible from as far as 7 kilometers away. “This is practically a new building,” Oreta said, explaining that the steel trusses and girders were already encased in concrete when the original builders stopped construction, ensuring that no corrosion would occur.Despite this, Alphaland hired the services of local and foreign structural engineers to assess the condition of the building before completing its construction. “What they found was that it still meets and surpasses our building standards,” he said. Oreta pointed out that Alphaland Southgate also boasts of a world-class design by Wong and Ouyang Ltd., the architects of Hong Kong’s premier recreational establishment, the Pacific Place.

The building’s energy requirements are also supported by solar panels and a “green” architectural design, which gives tenants the added benefit of saving power.For a building that was erected when high technology was still in its infancy, Alphaland also pulled a coup when it secured an accreditation from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority as a business process outsourcing site. “It is also linked to the Magallanes MRT station, so BPO workers will find this more convenient,” Oreta said.Admittedly, Alphaland did worry when the global economic slump reached local shores, and one of the first industries to be hit was the real estate sector. When the project started, the company originally announced that the building would be open for business by the first quarter of 2009.That timetable has since been moved to August 2009.

Nonetheless, Oreta said he was encouraged by the firm demand from locators. The mall space is already 80-percent taken, while office space reservations are approaching 50 percent, with negotiations for another large tenant is ongoing.Don’t think that the company is resting on its laurels, though. Already, it is talking with the owners of a lot directly across Pasong Tamo Extension where it could build an exact duplicate of the Southgate Tower, which will be linked to the present complex via an elevated footbridge. “All this is good business,” Oreta said. “But more importantly, we’re doing our part to improve the Makati skyline. Where there once was an eyesore, there now stands a gleaming new building.”

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