Cebu puts Philippines in the real-estate sustainability map

In Photo: Phillip Añonuevo (from left), the author, Jonathan Umali, Leo Po and Raymond Rufino came together to speak on how Cebu is becoming the hub for sustainable developments in the Philippines.

THE real-estate gathering recently in Cebu, which I had moderated, was very personal to me on so many levels. 

First, Cebu province is one of my veritable homes in the Visayas region. I am proud to have done a suroy-suroy from Bogo to Santander in search of the mythical Sigbin. I have spent one night alone in the then-unknown Sumilon in Oslob now a known luxury destination, the place where I learned how to dive and embrace the water despite the fact that I didn’t know how to swim. Never had there been any place where you could go to the beach or enjoy mountain weather and attend a meeting, all in one day. 

Second, I also had the chance to reconnect with ARCH Capital lead, Jonathan “Loy” Umali, who was one of those who shepherded my very early career in real estate more than a decade ago. He was at that time the head of project development of Community Innovations, now Alveo. We were jokingly referring to those times when we were “winging it.” Those where some of the more memorable highlights of my then young career in real estate—learning from Loy and Iris Josef, Dan Abando in geeking out on construction, Eunice Velasco in marketing and, of course, Bobby Dy regarding how real estate is a public trust. Such mentors have since set the tone for my advocacy in the real-estate sector. 

Third, as chairman for public engagement in the Urban Land Institute, the premier real estate and development group in the Philippines, my persistent championing of the Visayas and Mindanao found a supporter in our visionary leader, the outgoing ULI chairman, Raymond Rufino. 

Guests are treated to a virtual-reality experience of the lobby of Cebu Exchange by ArthaLand Corp. and ARCH Capital Management.
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A lot of my work in real estate at that time was surrounding the unification into one district of Ayala Center aim Cebu and IT Park, which we launched subsequently as the Cebu Park District.  Cebu is a very elusive market and like a beautiful lady that is worth the chase. 

Green markets tend to thrive in developing economies, and the Philippines is now transitioning into a culture that advocates sustainable design and technologies, pushing efforts toward environmental sensitivity, and making the country a more globally attractive investment destination for both commerce and the real-estate industry.

This was the heart of the discussion in the recent “Lunch and Learn” event hosted by Cebu Exchange by ArthaLand and ARCH Capital, in partnership with the ULI as part of their mission to promote and share green building practices in the Philippines. The forum was held at the Cebu Exchange Gallery in Cebu City with distinguished speakers and guests from the real-estate industry.

Compared to the handful of (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified projects in the Philippines in 2010, according to the US Green Building Council database of green buildings, there are currently 92 real-estate projects that have been awarded LEED certifications in the Philippines, with many more currently registered and undergoing the application process.

Currently, around 25 percent of all LEED-certified properties and 38 percent of Building for Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence (Berde)-certified properties and operations are in Taguig in Metro Manila. With limited land resources in Metro Manila areas of Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas and Makati Central Business District, Cebu presents more room to grow and is emerging as an attractive place for real-estate developers to pursue brand-new green investments. Cebu is currently the fastest-growing central business district in the Philippines, with the government’s support of green building practices, and low vacancy rates among its supply of office spaces.

Among the keynote speakers were Raymond Rufino, chairman of the Urban Land Institute Philippine National Council and chairman of the Philippine Green Building Council; Jonathan Umali, director of Investment and Asset Management at Hong Kong-based investment firm ARCH Capital; Phillip Añonuevo, director at Leechiu Property Consultants Inc.; and Leo Po, executive vice president and treasurer of ArthaLand Corp.

Rufino, who is also the chairman of the Philippine Green Building Council which developed the Berde rating system, shared that “the trend of sustainable spaces and green buildings is not only geared toward attracting investors but, most important, targets the improvement to the quality of life and propel businesses forward.”

Aside from the environment-friendly practices that reduce energy consumption, and air pollution causing emissions, green buildings yield strong financial returns for owners and tenants of these buildings. According to the 2016 World Green Building Trends report which was produced by Dodge Data & Analytics, in partnership with the US Green Building Council, there are a number of economic benefits for developers to pursue sustainable investments. Green buildings lead to lower operating costs due to savings on energy costs and lifespan costs. The rigorous screening processes of green certifications provide quality assurance for potential tenants leading to higher rental and occupancy rates. Tenants also experience increased productivity and awareness about sustainable practices.

Añonuevo, for his part, shared how both the public and private sectors are preparing added infrastructure for the investments in real estate coming to Cebu, including the Mactan Cebu International Terminal Building, which is set to open next month with a capacity of around 8 million passengers per year, the third bridge link between Mactan and Cebu City to ease traffic within Cebu City and provide easier access to Cordova and the bus-rapid transit (BRT) system for fast, convenient and affordable commutes.

ArthaLand’s latest signature office tower, Cebu Exchange, is poised to change the workscape environment in Cebu’s foremost commercial hub. The launch of this distinct new office project is yet another strong affirmation that Cebu is capturing the eyes of developers and business owners to create value through the creation of green buildings in the Philippines. The Cebu Exchange development had its initial concrete pouring just last May 29 and is set to be one of the tallest developments in the Cebu IT Park with 39 stories of mixed-use commercial and office space, and the biggest green building in the Philippines with a projected size of 109,000 square meter. It is on track to meet the highest certifications in both LEED and Berde when the project is completed.

As a boutique developer, ArthaLand is mindful of the investment approaches of the company. As ArthaLand’s first property development outside of Metro Manila, the location of the project was an important consideration. Cebu Exchange is at Salinas Drive, in the gateway of the Cebu IT Park, which boasted a 1-percent vacancy rate from total current gross leasable area in 2017. Cebu Exchange will be a stunning landmark and a leading-edge business ecosystem within this thriving growth center.

“ArthaLand is committed to delivering best-in-class and sustainable developments, that not only add to the bottom line, but also are visual assets to the city’s skyline,” Po said. Aside from the scale and location of the project, ArthaLand’s goal is to create a beautiful and instantly identifiable architectural design while accommodating the complex requirements of a green building. The street name, Salinas Drive, served as the inspiration for its design. Like salt clusters, the building features interlocking cubic volumes defining the tower’s crystalline massing and becoming an iconic addition to Cebu’s cityscape.

About the Urban Land Institute

The Urban Land Institute is an international, membership-based nonprofit research and education organization. Founded in 1936, the Institute now has almost 42,000 members worldwide representing the entire spectrum of land-use and real-estate development disciplines, working in private enterprise and public service.

The mission of the ULI is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

Continuing their commitment to sustainability and building better places, the Urban Land Institute with help with industry partners, such as ArthaLand Corp., are committed to provide leadership in the responsible use of land, as well as creating and sustaining thriving communities in beautiful spaces that reduce harm to the environment but also provide economic benefits to the developer and the country.

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Turning Points 2018