Araneta City Gateway 2 and ibis Styles
Quezon City

A Newcomer and a Comeback: the New Developments in Araneta City (and Cubao)

Ever since this endeavor began in 2009, the Urban Roamer has chronicled how Cubao has evolved over the years. Throughout that period, we have seen a business district get a name change (from Araneta Center to Araneta City, a change which I still have mixed feelings about), old establishments shutting down for good, and new landmarks rising, literally and figuratively.

The former Rustan’s Cubao and Cinema 21 site, current parking area and future site of Manhattan Plaza Tower 2 and other developments, with Manhattan Heights at the left, Manhattan Plaza Tower 1 in the background and the Cyberpark Towers 2 and 1 on the right

And 2023 has proven to be a milestone year for Araneta City as it witnessed two new landmarks that were opened to the public in time for the holiday season. Let’s have a look of both of these landmarks and see how they are changing the landscape of this part of the metropolis.

Gateway Mall 2 and ibis Styles Araneta City

The success of Gateway Mall has encouraged the Araneta Group to further expand the commercial activity of the mall with the construction of new mall that also serves as an extension of sorts to Gateway Mall dubbed, of course, Gateway Mall 2 which would connect Gateway Mall to Farmers Plaza, not to mention especially a direct link to the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

But if there’s one thing about how the Araneta Group does things, it’s that, for some reason or another, their plans take so damn long to materialize and whatever grandiose plans they have in mind end up getting downgraded, if not scrapped altogether. The development of Araneta City in the past 20+ years suffered because of this, with Gateway Mall 2 being an example.

Plans for this new mall were drawn up as early as 2014 but it would not be until 2017 when the work to build Gateway Mall 2 actually began. The mall was originally planned to open in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic forced construction activity to be halted then resumed to limited activity. The opening date was eventually moved to 2022 but was moved twice due to construction delays which even precipitated a court case between Araneta City and Megawide, the construction company doing the complex.

But while at this time of writing, the mall is still not fully open, the public has been able to access most of the mall tsince September 2023.

Based on how the mall is configured, Gateway Mall 2 is divided into three sections. The first section, covering the mall’s first three levels (including the basement parking levels) offers a view of the interior oasis which is the fountain, a Filipino-themed food alley concept called Palenque by chef Claude Tayag, and integration with the red gate of Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The second section covers the succeeding three levels which offer a view of the large LED ceiling display.

Finally, the third section which covers the upper two floors of the mall offers access to the ibis Styles Hotel (more on that later), the Sagrada Familia Catholic church and the sensory garden, both located at the topmost/rooftop level of the mall.

As mentioned earlier, there is still work being done within the mall itself with the 8-theater cineplex, bowling center which bears Paeng Nepomuceno’s name and a K-Pop themed cafe still not open.

Also yet to open is the hotel component of the development, the 22-level ibis Styles Araneta City hotel. ibis Styles is the budget hotel brand of Accor, the French hospitality company which also owns the Novotel Manla. (which ibis Styles serves to complement since it is a bit more upscale in nature) and perhaps its most famous hotel property, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. It is expected to open in early 2024 and will have 286 rooms.

Until Araneta Group gets around to building a Gateway Mall 3, the completion of ibis Styles Araneta City and Gateway Mall 2 would complete the area of Araneta City known now as the Gateway Complex, which includes Gateway Mall 1, Smart Araneta Coliseum and Novotel Manila.

Fiesta Carnival, version 4.0

Fiesta Carnival has had this curious existence throughout its 52-year history (yes, I’m counting the almost 20-years it went on hiatus) It was located in a spot right at the heart of Araneta City, beside the coliseum where it existed for around 30 years before it was moved outdoors across SM Cubao to give way to Shopwise Supermarket which took over its spot. Fiesta Carnival 2.0 lasted for only a year or two before it was gone from the map completely and remained a memory for almost 20 years.

Then last year in time for Christmas, Fiesta Carnival, albeit for a short while, located also outdoors but this time at the former site of Cinema 21 and portion of the former Rustan’s Cubao. It was a decent setup with a few rides but with the bonus of the presence of another old Cubao landmark, the Christmas on Display spectacle which used to be seen at the old COD Department Store which was located nearby.

This Christmas season, Fiesta Carnival 4.0 was opened to the public. What makes this revival special is that its new home is its old one. That’s right, Fiesta Carnival is back “home” at the heart of Cubao as Shopwise Supermarket relocated to its new home at the aforementioned Gateway Mall 2. Unfortunately, the Christmas on Display did not return to Cubao this year as it was relocated this season in Taytay Public Market in Taytay, Rizal.

Being back in its old home should make this iteration of Fiesta Carnival extra special and nostalgic. But oddly, it does not feel so. Maybe it’s because there are not much attractions to see, not fully taking advantage of the huge space that the area offers. Or maybe it’s because it has the perception (that may have not been case or otherwise) that it was cobbled up haphazardly, with Araneta deciding to justput some attractions there, slap the Fiesta Carnival name there, and call it a day.

Of course no one is asking to transform the old Shopwise venuie into how Fiesta Carnival looked like in the 1070s-1990s (the aesthetics of that period is no longer apt to today’s lifestyle and demands) but Araneta could have at least made some effort in creating a festive or carnival atmosphere, you know like what its name says. Instead what we ended up having is a soulless iteration, just like the others that came before it with little thought or creativity put into it. But maybe I’m just a grumpy old guy who has too high of a taste for amusement parks? At the very least, kids seem to enjoy it, I think.

Despite the negative sentiments, there is a saving grace to Fiesta Carnival 4.0 and that is the “modern” area of the carnival which is accentuated by the blue and pink LED strip lights. For one, it offered a variety of attractions such as a trampoline park, video game arcades, and claw game booths. There is even a bowling and billiard place and an indoor skating area, a rarity to see in the metropolis. I would say this area puts Fiesta Carnival 4.0 miles above the past revivals and really help make this place stand out a bit more.

Come to think of it, I wish they would have applied the same unique aesthetics they used in the modern area of the carnival to the traditional area, maybe add some unique colored lights to differentiate it from the modern area, add some traditional carnival or fiesta motifs, anything to at least make it more appealing.

The activity areas also look promising and I wish they were more expansive so kids can enjoy playing there a bit more.

Then again, there is still that cloud of uncertainty that hangs over Fiesta Carnival. You see, the area where Fiesta Carnival is located has been envisioned to be the site of a planned commercial building development called the Civic Plaza, which Araneta envisions to be the district’s equivalent of Rockefeller Plaza, with “Spanish Steps” that would connect it to the residential development Manhattan Plaza.

Original image from https://megaworldprojectsph.com/manhattan-plaza, with additional annotations by the Urban Roamer

However, this is Araneta Group we are talking, a company that, as we established earlier in this piece, is notorious for taking too damn long to get their plans into action, with such plans not ending up as grandiose as they ended up being. As such, there is no formal announcement yet as to when the Civic Plaza will be built. Also complicating matters is the fact that Manhattan Plaza is only partially completed with the other half not yet having commenced construction, perhaps because there is the complication of the presence of a transport terminal at the outskirts of the project site.

So until Araneta gets its act together on finalizing its plans for this Civic Plaza and Fiesta Carnival (will it have another lengthy hiatus or be relocated to another site next Christmas? or will it be closed again after the holidays?) we can only hope that Fiesta Carnival, whether it will be 4.0 for a somewhat longer term or shut down to make way to 5.0, will be made better not only for us who are nostalgic of the old Fiesta Carnival but for the younger ones to be able to have lasting memories of this new one.

Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia, Gateway Complex, Skyscrapercity, ABS-CBN News, and Inquirer

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