Henry Sy Sr.’s vision turns into a landmark

/ 12:51 AM October 06, 2014
THE MALL of Asia is SM’s most ambitious project.

THE MALL of Asia is SM’s most ambitious project.

Henry Sy Jr., the architect of SM’s property strategy, distinctly remembers what his father, retail pioneer Henry Sy Sr., said before he and his siblings embarked on building Mall of Asia, SM’s most ambitious project in Pasay City.

“Shoppers and tourists will come to the SM Mall of Asia not just to shop but for leisure,” Henry Sr. had said. “The mall will be a major Asia-Pacific destination.”


He was not wrong.

“My dad always tells me this—when everybody is concentrating in the east; you have to look at the west. You don’t have to slug it out in the downtown areas where the prices are so high. You have to go to other places and build your own city,” Henry Jr. said.


Building the Mall of Asia Complex took more than a grand vision. It was a leap of faith.

Steven Tan, SM Prime SVP and Mall of Asia’s first mall manager, recounted that there was nothing but weeds in the area before SM came along. But even after MOA was set up, prospective tenants were hesitant to embrace the project.

“The tenants would ask me, ‘who is going to come here?’ They would say, ‘it looks like there’s no community here.’ It was quite challenging in the beginning. You have to sell it so well, sell it so hard, and really tell them what the vision is and what the grand plan is,” Tan added.

“Before this project was started, this place was a ghost town,” SM Prime SVP and head of offices, Dave Rafael recalled.

Despite the skepticism, the Sys were determined to bid for the Manila Bay reclamation project in the late 1980s.

The vision for the Mall of Asia was a mini- “Disneyland” counting among its attractions a big indoor shopping center and bay walk amenities.

“But people were asking us, ‘Will you have enough customers?’ In their minds, the shopping center concept works if you have many people within a five-kilometer radius. Unfortunately for us, half of our radius is water and fish do not shop,” Henry Jr. said in jest.


“So our challenge was how to bring people inside the mall because we have such a beautiful sea view,” Henry Jr. said.

On its completion in 1995, the Mall of Asia Complex stood a few meters above sea level to mitigate the effects of flooding and was guarded by a concave seawall that throws back incoming surges into the sea.

The first structure to rise in 1999 was the Shrine of Jesus, The Way, The Truth and The Life Church, now a popular venue for weddings and baptisms. This was followed by the low-rise offices of the SM Group.

Then came the plan to build the largest mall in the country that was opened in 2006, the     400,000-square-meter Mall of Asia that immediately made a name for itself.

“Because of the mall, developments were ramped up. The mall was such a landmark. Back then, it was the biggest in the Philippines and one of the biggest in the world. The area came alive largely because of SM’s strong brand recognition,” Rafael said.

SM Mall of Asia has become a major attraction for many visitors with its nearly 800 retail and food outlets.

It has pioneering establishments such as the IMAX theatre with one of the largest IMAX screens in the world, the first Olympic-sized skating rink in the country and the newly revamped Exploreum, formerly Science Discovery Center, with eight interactive galleries including a 158-seater Planetarium, the country’s only full-dome theatre with a 180-degree digital screen and advanced audio-visual system.

MANILA Bay sunset taken from  OneE-comCenter. Cora Guidote

MANILA Bay sunset taken from OneE-comCenter. Cora Guidote

Another crowd drawer is the 46,647-sqm SMX Convention Center, launched in November 2007.

Landmark venue

SMX has become a landmark venue for both local and international events.

SMX has evolved into a growing franchise with its flagship branch at the SM Mall of Asia Complex, branching out to Taguig and Davao.

In May 2012, the iconic Mall of Asia Arena opened with Lady Gaga’s two-night concert. Now, it has become a popular concert venue for international stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, Rihanna, Pitbull, Linkin Park, Taylor Swift and Mariah Carey.

On the Office Block side, commercial buildings branded as E-com Centers showcase the country’s fast rising hub for business and commerce. Today, OneE-com and TwoE-com are fully leased while future E-com Centers are already underway.

Put together, all these offices will have a total gross floor area of close to 465,381 sqm and will provide jobs to tens of thousands.

The Mall of Asia Complex has largely contributed to the development of tourism in Pasay City said Engr. Merlita Lagmay, who heads the City Planning and Development Office of the Pasay local government.

Internal data showed that the SM Group of Companies—particularly retail, malls, commercial and residential businesses—contributes over P850 million in taxes annually.

Over P5 billion in tax payments have been made from 2006 to 2014 arising from local business, real property and amusement taxes that benefit thousands of residents in Pasay City every year.

Hotels rising

With the large influx of tourists and vacationing OFWs putting the SM Mall of Asia on top of their itineraries, there are still greater things happening as SM completes the plans for the area.

SM Hotels and Convention Centers is bringing in Conrad Manila, a five-star 347-room hotel, which will be the first Conrad Hotels and Resorts branded property in the Philippines. Slated for launch in 2015, the eight-story hotel will also be offering two levels of shopping and entertainment facilities featuring a diverse set of global and local brands and entertainment.

Likewise in the pipeline is a ferry terminal envisioned to cater to a sea-based mass transit system, especially for people who wish to travel to Nasugbu, Batangas, Cavite City or Bataan. An Esplanade Park along Seaside Boulevard will form part of the ferry terminal area. The park will cater to ferry passengers, as well as bikers and joggers.

The single story structure will also house retail establishments with pay parking and pay restroom and showers.

Landmark office buildings are also rising— ThreeE-, FourE- and FiveE-comCenters which will cater to the enormous demand for office spaces and further creating a regional hub for shopping, dining, working and recreation.

Recently, SM Prime broke ground on ThreeE-com Center, and adjacent FiveE-com Center will soon be completed.

These new office buildings will continue to establish the E-com Centers as a premier address in the Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City given its ideal location and master-planned environment.

SM is also preparing for its next phase of development as it is currently bidding to reclaim 600 hectares of land in Pasay and Parañaque.

For this, SM has tapped Singapore-based AECOM Technology Corporation to undertake the master plan for the development.

SM Prime’s Rafael said the masterplan was being reviewed.

“In a couple of years, almost 100 hectares of the land at the Mall of Asia Complex will be fully built. We have to look at what will be the future for the SM Group and for the Filipinos in general,” Henry Jr. said.


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