Araneta City skyline
Quezon City

Araneta City: a Cubao in Transition

Back in 2010-2011, the Urban Roamer wrote a series about old Cubao, particularly the Cubao I remember as a kid. It was, in essence, a celebration of Cubao’s colorful past that has mostly disappeared by then as it was undergoing a transition into a new Cubao of sorts.

A decade later, and, at this time of writing, a global pandemic still raging, the transition has made some more changes to this area which no longer is called an Araneta Center but an Araneta City. Still, the work is unfinished and it will take a while before we see what new Cubao is supposed to be like as the Aranetas envisioned it. But it’s been a long while since we did a deep dive into Cubao and this piece is long overdue so it’s time to revisit it and see what has changed.

Rebranding and other struggles

If there’s one thing that can be gleaned from the evolution of Araneta’s Cubao over the past 10 years, it’s that the development has been a slow and gruelling process. Even at the time the Urban Roamer first wrote about Cubao in 2010, the slow pace of development has been a pain, given that it took years before the open pit that was the site of Plaza Fair was filled up to build Gateway Tower.

At this point, Araneta already missed its original 2022 deadline in its original timetable to redevelop the area which it made back in 2002; as to how many years the delay would be is still a big question. It doesn’t help that, political and business connections aside, Araneta is not as resource-rich as the likes of SM, Ayala, and Ortigas who are able to redevelop their areas at a quicker pace. The ongoing pandemic has only aggravated matters further. with the delays and businesses in the district suffering immensely.

Despite the challenges, you have to give credit to Araneta for carrying on its vision for the district. A reflection of that is its rebranding in 2019 as it was no longer on being just a center. By giving the area a new name of Araneta City, it aims to be this growing, evolving district built on its long and established history.

The Gateway core

When the redevelopment of Araneta’s Cubao was unveiled in 2002, Gateway Mall was to be the “opening salvo” of those redevelopment efforts. It was opened to the public two years later, a 5-level twin-building type mall structure not unlike SM Megamall, with connections to the Line 2 station (which just opened a year prior), the coliseum, and Farmers Plaza and ultimately the Line 3 station there via an elevated walkway.

Gateway Mall was marketed as “like no other mall in the world” though in reality, there was not really much that makes unique from other malls. Though one standout feature of the mall is the enclosed open space oasis filled with flora, a makeshift stream with fish on it, and al fresco dining serving the restaurants surrounding it. There was also the exclusive movie theaterwhich was the first in country to have those comfortable La-Z Boy seats.

Gateway Mall would eventually serve as the core of the commercial developments in Cubao’s Araneta City where present and future development would be connected to it. The first to rise was Gateway Tower, a 32-level office building as well as the first retail extension for Gateway Mall as well as being the home for the Gateway Gallery, where one can find events in Philippine history depicted in art. Speaking of art, the Gateway Tower also features art from a National Artist Benedicto Cabrera, otherwise known as BenCab with his “Monumental” triptych greeting visitors at the entrance.

The Gateway Tower entrance with the BenCab “Monumental” triptych partly seen

Another “beneficiary” of these efforts is the New Frontier Theater which went through a massive renovation from the last time we talked about it in its space which was all but forgotten. Now, the New Frontier Theater which reopened in 2015 was reimagined to a live venue space for smaller events, complementing Smart Araneta Coliseum which is reserved for larger crowds. Plus, it directly connected now to Gateway Tower and Gateway via an elevated walkway which was added recently.

A slew of Manhattan projects

Besides Gateway, the Manhattan Gardens (formerly the Manhattan Garden City) is the other iconic element of the modern Araneta City. It is probably the most ambitious residential project made, with rows of residential towers built one after another that have pretty much dominated the Cubao skyline. Its development as a whole is also one of the longest, still ongoing at this time of writing and for a foreseeable future,, as we shall explain in a bit.

The 3-tower, 28-storey Manhattan Parkway, was the first to rise. Completed in 2011, this is the one located alongside Aurora Boulevard and rose from the row of ukay-ukay stores that used to be found here. The ground level along the General Malvar side is known for being a restaurant row, where one can find various restaurants including Jollibee which is technically the original Jollibee which relocated there from the old Coronet Theater site where Jollibee was born but has since shut down.

Across it is the second development of Manhattan Gardens, Manhattan Parkview which was completed in 2013. The former Nation Cinerama-eventual lagoon site is now the site of yet another 3-tower residence at 31 storeys each and has a garden villa on the top-level podium. The ground level is also a retail area with more lifestyle shops than dining areas.

The third to rise, Manhattan Heights, is located a bit far off, along General Romulo Avenue near Cubao Expo. This was the site of the old Araneta bus terminal but is now the home of the districts two terminals, the more “upscale” Araneta Bus Port which is integrated into the complex, which I think was the first time something like this was done in the country. But going back to Manhattan Heights, it was completed in 2017 though was not turned over until a year later. It is the most massive phase among the Manhattans to date, a four-tower setup at varying heights: Tower A and C at 35 storeys, B at 35, and D at 25. Unlike the other two, there is not much retail space at the ground level as much was devoted to the aforementioned bus port.

The fourth and final component is the Manhattan Plaza, being built on the old Rustan’s site. It is also the most ambitious of the four Manhattans as it is set to have eight towers all in all at 40 storeys each. At this time of writing, two towers have been completed and work is proceeding on the other towers. One thing that complicates matters at the moment is that the rest of the old Rustan’s site is still being used as a transport terminal whose importance grew during the pandemic as part of the efforts in controlling and rationalizing public transport. It will be interesting to see the fate of the terminal in which I hope it finds a new a better home.

Finally, an upscale hotel and more office space

One of the criticism Cubao had was that it did not have an upscale hotel in its premises. Up until recently, the hotels surrounding Cubao are more of the budget kind and not the ones business or luxury travelers would think to check into. That doesn’t even count those hotels with a certain “reputation.”

That changed in 2015 when Araneta City finally had an upscale hotel of its own: Novotel Manila Araneta City. With 24 storeys and 401 rooms, it also has a dedicated kid’s corner and additional dining choices that has made the area a bit more diverse than usual.

Araneta also ramped up on office space development apart from the aforementioned Gateway Tower. Foremost of these efforts are the Cyberpark towers. Currently, there are two buildings already standing: the 30-storey Cyberpark 1 and and 31-storey Cyberpark 2, That’s not even counting the dedicated facilities of outsourcing firms Telus and APAC Customer Service, though they may be demolished in the future in the place of future developments. More on that in a bit.

Telus House and Cyberoark 1
Cyberpark 2

The missing pieces and the future

As was touched upon earlier, there is still a lot of work going and will be going on in the near future as Araneta City is still in the midst of its transformation. While the current situation has no doubt slowed down the pace of development, work remains ongoing.

The Araneta City masterplan

One of the most notable of these projects is the construction of new shopping mall and hotel complex connected to the existing Gateway Mall. The mall component, dubbed Gateway Mall 2, will be an 8-level mall with 9 additional cinemas, a “gourmet hall,” rooftop activity area, organic vegetable garden, an island restaurant-themed food court, and a “papal hat” inspired Catholic chapel. The hotel component meanwhile is 22 storeys high and will carry the Ibis Styles brand, the first Ibis Styles hotel in the country for that matter. It was reportedly supposed to open in 2020, in time for the 60th anniversary of the opening of the coliseum but with the pandemic, this has been delayed until…TBD.

Gateway Mall 2
Ibis Styles

While construction has not commenced yet, plans are underway for the construction of what is called the City Plaza. Set to be built in the former Fiesta Carnival now Shopwise site (Shopwise is expected to relocate at Gateway Mall 2). This would be a mixed development of residential, commercial, office spaces, with a grand staircase inspired by the “Spanish Steps” between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti in Rome, which will connect the City Plaza to Manhattan Plaza.

Other planned structures include Cyberparks 3, 4, and 5, plus a potential Gateway Mall 3 on the southern side, a redeveloped Farmers Market which will be integrated in a future possible commercial or residential development, plus a development called Heritage Area at the site where the Farmers Garden and former Expo Sentro are located. Though it’s unclear if the old Araneta compound, AKA the Bahay na Puti/Balay House would be part of the redevelopment as well with the “heritage” name and all.

The Farmers Garden, so to be taken over the Araneta’s “Heritage Area”?

All in all, it is an interesting period for Araneta City and we anticipate how these new developments will, hopefully, transform Araneta City and Cubao for the better, even if we have to wait longer for all these to be finally realized.

Acknowledgements as well to Buisiness Mirror, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Araneta Group, and Wikipedia.

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