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TriNoma: Ayala’s SM Challenger

The Urban Roamer previously touched upon the Ayala-developed mall complex known as TriNoma and how this mall, in some ways, changed a number of things in the metropolis’ retail landscape.

Today, we’re going to explore this story further as we look at the story of TriNoma and how it was the beginning of a new chapter for Ayala as it decided to go beyond its comfort zones to challenge the SM mall empire.

From partnership to competition

Having completed two ambitious series relating to SM and Ayala Center, it is interesting to see how the relationship between SM and Ayala evolved over the years vis-a-vis their contrasting histories. In 1963, Ayala was in the middle of developing its Makati estate in a thriving commercial and business district and SM was still known as a humble, yet aggressively expanding ShoeMart. That year, Ayala offered SM a spot in their planned commercial center that would become the Makati Commercial Center. And as Makati Commercial Center (plus eventually Greenbelt) grew in the 1970s, ShoeMart grew as well and the store would be expanded and become a full-fledged department store in 1975.

The nature of this relationship would change by the 1980s when in 1985, SM opened its first shopping mall, SM City North EDSA. While technically, the SM commercial center concept is different from that of Ayala’s and had a different target demographic, SM was now a player in the greater shopping center development field as Ayala and somewhere down the road, these two entities would find themselves competing with each other.

Coincidentally, Ayala years later would embark on a major redevelopment of Makati Commercial Center (which would be later named Glorietta) and Greenbelt, eventually bringing these two commercial areas together to form this one greater commercial complex known as Ayala Center. Reportedly, this redevelopment was spurred by the rise of the SM malls; whether there is truth to those reports or not, the timing of it all, not to mention the result of this development which made Ayala Center more “competitive” as a shopping complex, makes one wonder.

Growing competition aside, you have to give Ayala and SM credit for continuing having an “amicable” relationship within the Ayala Center confines even to this day. SM Makati still kept itself part of the greater Ayala Center development through its connections to Glorietta and Park Square. While Ayala in return, allowed SM Makati to expand in the 2000s and even have retail tenants of its own.

The mass transit opportunity

sOf course, outside Ayala Center it was a different story. SM was the dominant player and Ayala was, while prominent as a retail property developer, had a limited presence. For a while, Ayala was content to serve the upscale neighborhoods of Makati and Alabang witgh Ayala Center and Alabang Town Center respectively. But as SM continued to grow immensely over the years, Ayala found itself losing ground in the public mindset as SM was seen as the dominant player in the retail development field. Amidst the pressure, Ayala decided to compete with SM head-on. Fortunately, they found a fitting opening salvo to do so, thanks to the development of the mass transit Line 3 in EDSA in the late 1990s.

Ayala became a partner of the consortium to construct and initially operate Line 3. As part of the construction process, the consortium acquired a property at the corner of North Triangle, at the intersection of EDSA and North Avenue for the site of a station as well as of its depot. However, the consortium saw the potential of the property as a commercial area, especially that it was right across the already massive SM City North EDSA. So the depot was moved a few meters away and was made underground as plans were made to construct what was envisioned to be a shopping mall.

It took a while though before development on the property began as Ayala took control of developing the commercial property during the intervening years. Construction of the mall would finally begin in 2005 and would take about two years. Finally, in 2007, the shopping mall would be finally opened to the public as TriNoma, an acronym for the words “Triangle North of Manila.”

The formidable challenger

TriNoma marked the first time Ayala would finally embark on a full-blown mall development campaign beyond its Makati and Alabang confines. Ayala was eager to show off what it has to offer as a mall developer, and it had the portfolio to show off for starters. Notable of these is the much-lauded redevelopment of Greenbelt years back which gave Ayala enough goodwill to proceed with its projects.

As a result, what we have is a massive mall at over 224,000 square meters and 5 levels of retail space. It also boasts a rooftop garden and an oasis-inspired entrance at the Mindanao Avenue-North Avenue side. As for its department store and supermarket, Ayala turned to a longtime Ayala Center tenant, Landmark and offered it a presence there. This marked Landmark’s first foray outside its Makati home and was given a very huge area of the mall to occupy, alongside its sister company Anson’s appliance store.

But what made TriNoma a formidable challenger to SM and its longstanding dominance in the area is its accessibility to mass transit. Having built the mall right beside the North Avenue station of Line 3 was a shrewd move by Ayala as it gave the mall the heavy foot traffic that gives its neighbor/competitor SM City North EDSA a run for its money. Incidentally, Line 3 is connected directly to SM Makati at the Ayala Avenue station, alongside the main entrance beside it, so Ayala could call it even.

So how did SM respond? ?While it never commented publicly, it did fight back by initiating an extensive redevelopment of SM City North EDSA. It was this redevelopment that we now have their the Skygarden area, the redeveloped Annex Building, and additions like The Block and the North Towers. It also lobbied hard to have a Line 1-Line 3 common station to be built near the Annex Building. However, the entry of the BS Aquino and the Ayala’s closeness to that administration scuffled those plans and instead pushed for the North Avenue station itself to be the common station that benefitted TriNoma more than SM North EDSA. This resulted in a long battle between Ayala and SM which was unresolved until the Duterte administration took over and facilitated the settlement which led to the construction of the present North Triangle Grand Central station which, while still located in the premises of TriNoma, is located much closer to SM North EDSA where it will also have a connection with.

A “new” era for Ayala

TriNoma was a turning point not just in its expansion but also with regards to the Ayala “style” of commercial development that is, frankly, not really in a positive way. The mall, while having benefited from the Ayala brand, felt less like Ayala Center such that the charm felt when one enters Greenbelt or Glorietta was, at the very least, muted in favor of more “mainstream” choices. It also did not help that, as of this time of writing, the mall is connected to SM City North EDSA by a PWD-unfriendly elevated bridge, not to mention the entrance to the mall if you’re coming from SM North EDSA feels more like a back entrance than the more “grand” entrance at North and Mindanao Avenues.

The unsightly and PWD-unfriendly connection between TriNoma and SM City North EDSA

Despite its size and having some advantages with regards to design and amenities, TriNoma feels it lacks the old ambience and sophistication that Ayala Center had. Sadly, this TriNoma template is being replicated not only in the new malls Ayala is building across the country, but also in the redevelopment of Ayala Center as of late. The rise of TriNoma, coupled with the Glorietta blast which incidentally happened around the same time as well, marked the end of old Ayala in a favor of a more pedestrian and less bold design that we see in Ayala malls today.

The truth of the matter is that the development of TriNoma was borne out of, to put it bluntly, opportunities and opportunism. It pounced on an opportunity and did it pretty well, but in the process, it contributed to the devolving urban development that we see as of late. And sadly, it is something we have to live by.

Acknoweledgements as well to TriNoma and Wikipedia

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