Hong Kong architect wins tender for massive development on artificial island off Manila

City of Pearl being touted as one of the biggest ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ projects; the man-made island off the coast of Manila will be the size of 20 Victoria Parks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 5:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 10:00pm

In what is being touted as one of the biggest investments in the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a Hong Kong architect and his firm have won a tender to plan and coordinate the design of an artificial island the size of 20 Victoria Parks off the coast of Manila in the Philippines, the Post has learned.

The project, dubbed the City of Pearl, will include futuristic office buildings, residential blocks, leisure facilities like a golf course and marina clubs, a driverless monorail and government facilities like hospitals. Water taxis will connect the island with various districts in Manila.

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“The City of Pearl is an example that there are real business opportunities in belt and road countries. Its estimated valuation is about US$100 billion,” said Nicholas Ho, 30, who is deputy managing director of architectural firm Ho & Partners, which is both overall planner and development consultant for the project.

The architect has met Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Joseph Estrada, a former president who is currently mayor of Manila. He said both supported the project.

Ho is among the first wave of Hong Kong professionals knocking on the doors of more than 65 countries located along the belt and road. The initiative is the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping floated in 2013 with the aim of boosting trade along the old land-based Silk Road in the north and the maritime Silk Road in the south.

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“In Hong Kong and China, competition is intense and growth is slowing, so it is important to target opportunities in new markets if you seek to grow your business,” Ho said. “This will have to be belt and road countries.”

Founded by his father, Bosco Ho Hin-ngai, the firm designed the Sheung Wan building that houses Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, which was previously owned by the China Merchants group.

Ho recently joined a Trade Development Council mission to Thailand and Vietnam, where they met the prime ministers of both countries.

“There are 550 million people in Southeast Asia, but we are now focusing on the Philippines and Vietnam.”

Ho’s criteria for choosing an investment market are a large population, reasonable economic power, “lots of friends” and a sizeable overseas Chinese population.

“The land owner of the project [in Manila] is a Chinese in the Philippines,” Ho said.

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Situated in what is called New Manila Bay, the public-private partnership project is intended to be a self-sufficient city within the capital so that people working there can live there without having to endure a long commute along highly congested roads.

Ho said he won the tender through a people-oriented theme appealing to Filipinos.

“We want the City of Pearl to provide mobility to the young people of the Philippines. It is a city for the future of the country,” Ho said. “It is where multinationals will set up their offices and it is where upwardly mobile and young Filipinos will want to work.”

The mixed-use project also includes residential properties, which Ho said would be affordable to middle-class Filipinos. “We need to make sure there will be solid domestic demand to make the project viable.”