Pasay,  Special Feature

An SM Mall Story (As Told By 3 Malls) – Part 4: Building More Than A Mall

For the next 10+ years after the opening of SM Megamall, SM kept busy building its newfound empire of SM Supermalls. From its 3 malls in 1991, there were now 22 SM malls across the country by the end of 2004, an astonishing feat considering the fact that the Philippines suffered a couple of economic challenges during that period: the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and Pres. Joseph Estrada’s impeachment that led to his overthrow in 2001.

For some businessmen, such a feat is something to be comfortable about and is an indicator for them to take things slow. But as we’ve established already in this series, Henry Sy Sr. is not your typical businessman. He was a restless, driven individual who has always sought to achieve bigger things. Even at 80 years old in 2004, he was still at it and proceeded to build what would be the zenith of his SM empire.

Developing Reclaimed Land

This particular story actually stretches way back in the 1990s. As SM was busy building and opening malls across the country during that time, it was also starting to become involved in property development in general. And that would begin when it joined a consortium to develop 100 hectares of reclaimed land along Manila Bay in Pasay City. This property, known as the Bay City Central Business Park was an extension of the original reclamation project done in the 1960s which gave rise to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, PICC and the GSIS complex.

Henry Sy Sr. already had a grand vision for the property. For one, it was to be the site of the biggest mall in the country. But more than that, his idea did not just stop with the mall. What he envisioned was an integrated commercial development of leisure destinations, hospitality and business establishments, and the biggest mall in the country as this development’s centerpiece.

Mall of Asia Rises

SM wasted little time in the development of the property. By the early 2000s, most of the offices of the SM group relocated to the area as work was proceeding in the construction of the mall which was to be dubbed “Mall of Asia.” But work was not as smooth as expected. Originally planned for a Christmas Day opening in 2005, the opening was moved to March 2006 because of delays in the delivery of construction materials, as well as the weather experienced during construction. When 2006 came, the opening was moved to May because of reported structural issues that SM decided to address first.

Finally, SM Mall of Asia opened its doors to the public on May 21, 2006. As SM’s landmark 25th mall, it was a grand affair to say the least, as the awestruck public marveled at the mall’s sheer size, housing the country’s first Olympic-sized ice skating rink and its first IMAX theater. (Fun fact: the first film to be shown in the IMAX theater is a documentary titled Everest, shown in time for Leo Oracion’s achievement as the first Filipino to reach the summit of Mt. Everest 3 days before the mall’s opening) Then there was the iconic globe in the center of the rotunda at the end of EDSA, welcoming visitors to the mall while serving as an LED display at night.

Apart from the facilities, SM Mall of Asia was a departure from the previous SM malls that were built before it. For one, the mall embraced so much natural light. It employed glass not only on a significant portion of the roofing but also on the main entrance, while the wing that faced Manila Bay had no windows that would block the bay breeze coming in. Then there is also the use of open spaces which the mall employs. Some have speculated that SM Mall of Asia’s design served as SM’s response to the criticism leveled on the mall-builder for building “dull shoeboxes” with regards to their malls, all concrete with little natural light in place.

A True SM City

As noteworthy as SM Mall of Asia itself was, SM’s real achievement lies in its development of the property surrounding the mall. SM painstakingly made efforts to create an integrated commercial development, a true “SM City” if you may. It was a culmination of what Henry Sy Sr. aspired SM to be, a premier destination that stands tall above the rest.

Shell Residences by SM’s residential development firm on the right and the northern portion of the SM Corporate Center offices on the left

One of the first to be developed was the area across the mall facing Manila Bay which eventually housed a row of restaurants, some offering alfresco dining, and amusement attractions. With the closure of the restaurants along Manila’s Roxas Boulevard thanks to the actions of an old geezer mayor in 2007, this area that was first known as the San Miguel by the Bay and eventually renamed SM by the Bay, effectively replaced the Manila Baywalk.

In 2007, the SMX Convention Center was opened. The venue not only continued what Megatrade Hall in SM Megamall started, it also expanded upon the idea as it served also to host conventions big and small, not to mention the larger trade halls. Another events venue, the Esplanade, was also opened which became a venue for trade launches. In 2012, the Mall of Asia Arena was inaugurated, toppling down Smart Araneta Coliseum to be the biggest indoor sports and entertainment venue in Metro Manila with a capacity of up to 20000 people.

SMX Convention Center
Mall of Asia Arena

SM began also building a series of office buildings, starting with One E-Com Building in 2007. The E-Com buildings served to house mostly BPO companies that want to set shop in the area. SM’s involvement in the BPO industry goes far back as the opening of the mall itself, where a space in the mall’s north wing was allocated for the offshore offices of Dell’s contact center.

One, Two and Five E-Com Centers

Complementing the offices are, as of this writing. 4 residential condominium projects and 3 hotels (with Conrad at the moment serving as the complex’s premier hotel) around the property. SM also helped build a Catholic church in the area called the Shrine of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

With all these developments, SM has further cemented its place not only as a giant in Philippine retail, but a giant in property development as well. For some businessmen, that is enough of an achievement already. But we all know by now that Henry Sy Sr. is one who keeps on doing things. While his next steps taken were no longer as grand as the Mall of Asia complex development, these were still significant developments nonetheless, further altering the landscape that SM has already done.

To be concluded…

Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia and SM Prime

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