Vocal individuals expressed “shock” and questioned the logic behind Ayala Land Inc.’s (ALI) decision to fence off and start clearing a prime corner of Makati’s Central Business District early April in preparation for digging an underground parking lot and building a pair of skyscrapers and several low-rise commercial spaces.
Once the project is finished, however, ALI innovation and design group VP and chief architect Joel Luna and his team promise to give the public a better, more family-friendly “community space” that’s actually bigger and, based on artists’ perspectives, more postcard-pretty.
In a metropolis that has become more congested and commercialized by the day, a letter writer to the Inquirer asked: “Wouldn’t we enjoy a green park with no buildings, no retail (spaces) and no restaurants?”
Certain environmentalists also want to know what would happen to the trees. Would families, office workers, joggers and dog lovers be deprived of one of Makati’s last remaining open spaces?
Even before they started building on the “most expensive” piece of real estate in the Philippines a few months ago, people from ALI were already bracing themselves for any likely fallout.
“We knew beforehand that people would be hesitant to change and defend the status quo,” said Luna. “We understand where they’re coming from, but we all have to go through this temporary inconvenience while things are under construction.”
The 1.9-hectare prime land is on the northern tip of the seven-hectare Ayala Triangle. Hemmed in by Paseo de Roxas to the west and Makati Avenue to the east, the site will have a 32-story office tower and 22-story Mandarin Oriental hotel.
The developers are calling the new building Tower 2.
When it was inaugurated in 1998, the 38-story Tower 1, designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin (it was one of his last projects), was the country’s tallest building.
The land, contrary to not a few people’s impressions, is private property.
Although ALI chose to open up and turn part of the land into a park for public use in 2009, the property belongs to ALI, which not only funds the park’s upkeep, but also pays the Makati city government huge real estate taxes annually.
“The development is 1.9 hectares, but the buildings would occupy just a little over half that space. The rest would still be open space,” said Mariesheilla Aguilar, ALI’s project development manager.
That open space would be added to Ayala Triangle’s existing three hectares of open, developed space, making the park bigger once the entire project is finished by 2020.
Technically, no new building would eat up precious space from the existing park since Ayala Triangle’s northern tip has been closed to the public ever since, save for a pathway to allow pedestrians and joggers to traverse two major thoroughfares.
To ensure public safety, ALI had to fence off the pathway more than a month ago before digging starts middle of June. To save existing trees, the developer made sure that the planned buildings would have a small footprint.
“It took us more than a year to design everything because we wanted to make sure that both buildings sit lightly on the land,” said Luna. “Apart from showing visible greenery, our intent was to make the buildings seem to rise out of the ground.”
Luna and his collaborators even positioned the structures in such a way as to avoid most of the trees. Still, more than 70 trees would be affected.
Instead of cutting them, ALI will have these healthy trees balled out and replanted within the park or in one of its many projects.
What about the proposed commercial establishments? For sure, building a multi-story covered mall on the scale of Glorietta or Greenbelt is out of the question.
Based on ALI’s past experiences, hosting a good mix of commercial establishments in a business district is necessary to encourage human activity, draw the right crowd and discourage shady characters, especially at night, from engaging in all sorts of illicit trade.
ALI envisions its new tenants, again composed mostly of restaurants, to be accessible from the street and garden.
Since Ayala Triangle’s opening to the public in 2009, the area also saw the birth of a fitness culture. Thus, a huge, open-air garden has become de rigueur in all of ALI’s more recent developments.
“We will also devote a permanent space to regular events and activities,” said Luna. “One example is the annual Christmas lights show. We need to come up with more of these seasonal events to draw the public in.”
The Ayala Triangle project, conceptualized back in 2008, was seven years in the making. Back then ALI was all set to develop the remaining unused areas of the triangle when the world financial crisis struck.
Instead of abandoning its plans, the company went ahead and developed part of the area. Except for the fenced off northern tip, Ayala Triangle was transformed almost overnight into a modern, picturesque park hosting a select lineup of restaurants.
As land values continue to appreciate, given the country’s growing economy, ALI feels that the time is right to reactivate its plans.
“The public just has to rely on Ayala Land’s track record,” said Luna. “We have always been a responsible developer. We haven’t done anything that would destroy our name.”