Muntinlupa

A Festive Convergence at Alabang

The history of commercial development in Muntinlupa’s Alabang is an interesting one, to say the least. For a long while, Alabang’s commercial activities were confined in two disparate areas: the more “affluent” west side where Alabang Town Center is located and the “mass-oriented” east side where one can find the Alabang Public Market and what is now known as Starmall Alabang, among many other establishments.

Then came into the picture the property developer Filinvest which acquired a parcel of land right in between the traditional east and west areas of Alabang. Long known as a residential developer, this project would be Filinvest’s first foray in commercial development and it had a pretty ambitious plan for the area: to be a new commercial and business district in South Metro Manila. And Filinvest was eager to make its mark right at the start.

This is yet another long overdue piece for the site. But after a long time planning this out, the Urban Roamer has finally come around to start exploring this part of the metropolis, beginning with this feature on one of south Metro’s premier malls: Festival Alabang.

The Original Mall

First known as Festival Supermall, Festival Alabang opened in 1998 as one of the first projects to be completed in what is to become Filinvest City. The mall is to become the centerpiece of this business district.

Despite Filinvest’s then relative inexperience in commercial development, it is impressive to see how Festival Alabang was able to hold its own as one of Metro Manila’s most popular shopping malls in the midst of the dominance and heavy competition between the retail bigwigs such as SM, Ayala, and Robinsons. We’re not just about its 200,000+ retail floor area and the selection of stores alone. Indeed, Filinvest had a few more things to showcase.

True to its “festival” name, the mall offered not just one but two indoor theme park complexes Pixie Forest and X-Site, both of which are massive in size. At the time the mall first opened, it is easy to overlook those features since some shopping malls have indoor theme parks of their own. But as the years went by, the rise of digital technology shrunk these indoor theme parks, if not disappeared altogether.

But Festival’s theme parks remain in operation and if there was any decrease in operations, it was not as much. In fact, Festival expanded in its amusement facilities with the recent addition of the 2-level Grand Carousel

Festival is one of the very few, if not the only, venues in Metro Manila that still has a sizeable indoor theme park and amusement offerings. The fact that the mall not only retained these facilities but are also patronized by the public shows that such venues are still appreciated in today’s “digital-oriented” culture.

Expanding Across the River

By the late 2000s and up to the 2010s, the shopping mall evolved in the 2010s to be more “green” and “fresh” by incorporating the exterior environment. However, the former Festival Supermall was hampered by the pace of the developments in Filinvest City. There was already this creeping danger that while the mall remains a landmark in the metropolis, there was this feeling that it was beginning to feel and look “stale” as it could not catch up with its now larger competitors.

However, things would begin to turn around in 2014 when Filinvest announced an ambitious expansion plan for the mall, which would almost double the mall’s original retail floor area. The first phase of the expansion saw the mall beginning to utilize its location beside the Alabang River as retail spaces and a park were built alongside the river. This breathed new life into the mall, a fresh one at that. With wide promenades, lots of green, al fresco dining, and scenic views all around, the mall surely became more “festive” than ever as far as atmosphere is concerned.

The expansion would see the mall, now renamed Festival Alabang, utilize the space across the original structure with the construction of an expansion wing. This would eventually become the site of additional retail stores, its premier movie theaters and a new anchor department store and supermarket which is Landmark.

Repurposed Heritage

Festival Alabang’s expansion would eventually “bump into” what is actually a heritage site that, until recently, was not known to many. Constructed in 1924, this site was known before as the Alabang Serum and Vaccine Laboratory, a facility in the former Alabang Stock Farm, which in turn became Filinvest City.

As the name implied, the Alabang Serum and Vaccine Laboratory was known as the only producer of anti-venom serum and other vaccines in the country. For almost 80 years, vaccines and serums were produced in this facility, in particular at the Art Deco-designed Biological Production Services building. Thus, it’s apt to find on the building’s foreground a life-sized replica of Jose Rizal’s sculpture “The Triumph of Science Over Death” as sculpted by Dr. Genaro Sy-Changco.

Eventually, operations in the area were relocated to nearby Research Institute of Tropical Medicine around the year 2000, leaving the site in gradual decay in the midst of the development going on in Filinvest City. Fortunately, Filinvest decided to preserve the historic site. And when the time came to expand Festival Mall, the developer decided to incorporate the site itself into the mall’s overall development.

At this time of writing, work in the now-integrated BPS building is still ongoing. There were some who aired concerns about how the classic Art Deco look of the building does not seem to blend well with the contemporary architecture of the mall, particularly the expansion wing/s being built. But if you ask this roamer’s opinion, the work is not as bad as some pointed out. Then again, this view from a non-architect may not matter much to some.

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Work on the expansion of Festival Alabang is still ongoing but seems to be nearing completion at this time of writing. Already, the Urban Roamer is very impressed with how Festival Alabang has evolved into this lively, vibrant commercial space that is very rare to find in today’s shopping venues. It would be wise for a retail developer to take a cue from Filinvest on how to build their shopping malls as more than just retail spaces, respecting the environment and historicity of their place and provide the public with everyday positive experiences beyond the commerce going on in their malls.

Acknowledgements as well to the Muntinlupa City Government, Festival Mall, Sunstar, Inquirer, and Real Living

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