Bonifacio helps ease scarcity of grade-A space in Philippines

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am

With prime office space dwindling fast in the Philippines' prime business district of Makati City, the nearby Bonifacio Global City is expected to help ease the scarcity.

In just seven months within Bonifacio's still emerging business district, property developer Ayala Land is scheduled to complete a nine-storey building for HSBC to house domestic backroom operations.

'It is under construction and we [will] finish by the end of this year,' said Ayala Land chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala.

The firm hopes the new HSBC office will showcase how fast and how well Ayala Land and Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation (FBDC) can fill the demand of the sunrise business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Ayala Land owns 55 per cent of FBDC, which is developing the 240-hectare Bonifacio Global City located minutes away from Makati.

Mr Zobel, who is also the FBDC vice-chairman, said modern construction methods enabled them to take only about seven months 'from planning to end of construction - it's very, very fast'.

He said the edifice 'is just the fourth or the fifth we've constructed. The template is quite similar in each one - very simple buildings - [but] we do interesting designs on the outside.'

Speed was of the essence because 'their clients need the building right away', he said, adding 'we have quite a number of new applications for office buildings'. Speed of construction without sacrificing quality is what the BPO industry needs as it snaps up even the most expensive office space.

Trent Frankum, director for global corporate services and investment of CB Richard Ellis Philippines, said BPOs and call centres were flocking to the Philippines because 'we are extremely competitive' in terms of lease and salary rates, compared to industry leader India.

Lease rates in high-priced Makati were still 8 per cent to 9 per cent cheaper than in Bangalore and 73 per cent lower than in Mumbai, where many BPOs were located, Mr Frankum said.

'Indicative salaries in the Philippines for junior accountants with one to two years' experience may be 13 per cent to 16 per cent cheaper than India,' he said. The problem was that vacancy rates in Makati for grade-A and grade-B office space was down to 4 per cent and 9 per cent respectively, Mr Frankum said.

With office space demand expected to grow by 15 per cent this year due to BPOs, Makati's lease rates for choice space have risen slightly from 575 pesos ($84) per square metre in December 2005 to an average 620 pesos per square metre.

In the Ortigas commercial and business district, a choice address next to Makati, lease rates for grade-A space average 450 pesos per square metre.

Similar space in Bonifacio ranges from 450 pesos to 500 pesos per square metre.

But, again, the problem was that 'in Bonifacio nothing is available,' Mr Frankum said. Even a soon-to-be launched building there called 'Net Cubed' - designed for information technology locators - was already fully booked, he said.

A 26-storey 24,700 square metre office building called Fort 26th would be finished in the next 22 months, he added.

Ayala Land president and FBDC director Jaime Ayala said Bonifacio Global City would be 'a way for us to provide additional expansion for what is really the central financial district [Makati]'.

Expected to provide competition, though, is a 60-hectare business park being developed by taipan Henry Sy beside his shopping complex Mall of Asia, which opened last Sunday.

SM Investments will spend 1.5 billion pesos to complete a 10-storey, 94,000-square-metre building, designed for BPO and information technology locators, by June next year.

Mr Zobel believed that the property market would perk up this year because 'activities are picking up on many of the product categories we have ... interest rates are low, the banks are willing to give longer debt financing, the fiscal numbers of the government are improving'.

Possibly the only category in the doldrums is the industrial land market since the manufacturing sector is shrinking. Guillermo Luz, executive director of the Makati Business Club, said that in surveys among its members - the nation's top bosses - 'very rarely do I see our manufacturing firms report beyond 75 per cent capacity utilisation'.