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Cultural Center development now ready after legal dispute

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 [ manilatimes.net ]

EXCLUSIVE

By Johanna M. Sampan, Reporter

A land case that supposedly was the stumbling block to the transformation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) into a cultural and commercial hub would be soon out of the way, the center’s President Nestor Jardin said recently.

The plan, which Jardin described as a perfect marriage of art and commerce, was put to a halt when, in June last year, Pasay City auctioned off to Republic Real Estate Corp. two lots titled in the center’s name and located in Pasay and Manila. The total area of the property is 23.89 hectares.

“We filed a restraining order from the Court of Appeals and they nullified the bidding. Basically we already won, so now they [Republic Real Estate] are appealing the decision of the [appellate court],” Jardin told The Manila Times during an exclusive interview.

The 15-page decision signed by Associate Justice Sesinando Villion said that the writ of execution dated May 8, 2007, issued by Judge Tingaraan Guiling of of Branch 39 of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City and the sheriff’s notice of execution and notice of sale dated May 11, 2007, were null and void.

Guiling declined to comment further on the dispute, saying the case is pending in court.

This was not the first time that Republic Real Estate engaged the national government in court. The firm, which was established by retired American serviceman Harry Stonehill during the 1960s, was commissioned then by the city government of Pasay to reclaim a portion of the Manila Bay in support of expanding maritime commerce. A part of that deal gave Republic Real Estate the option to buy 180 hectares of the 300-hectare reclamation area at P10 per square meter. The central government later questioned the validity of the contract. A source who asked not to be named, meanwhile, said the Elizaldes are not part of the real-estate company.

Back on track

Jardin said the project is now back on track, and that he would be meeting soon with possible bidders including Ayala Land, SM Holdings, Filinvest Corp. and Megaworld.

He pointed out that the cultural center’s master business and financial plans and basic guidelines for the bidding would be given paramount importance in exploratory discussions.

“We will get the input of the possible bidders, then we will incorporate their input in our terms of reference that we already have. Once we incorporate their input, we will finalize our terms of reference,” Jardin said.

He added that the cultural center could be very specific in doing the business plan and the terms of reference. “We couldn’t dictate the kind of partnership we would require from the bidder because it would be very restrictive. The advice of our business planners is to have open proposals.”

Jardin said the bidders’ “track record in the government and quality of development” that they have done would matter highly.

He announced that the bids and awards committee for the cultural center project would most likely be composed of four officials of the center and representatives from the Office of Government Corporate Counsel and the National Economic and Development Authority. Observers would come from the Commission on Audit and other government agencies and the center’s internal audit team.

Jardin said the exploratory talks with possible stakeholders would start on the third week of this month and last until May. With that accomplished, bidding will take place from June to October, then the winner will be announced on November and the formal awarding of the bidding winners will be on December.

After the contract signing, construction is estimated to start by the first quarter of 2010. The project, which is estimated to cost P40 to P45 billion, is expected to be finished by 2015.

Ambitious plan

The plan, according to Jardin, is to enter into a joint-venture project with a private company or a consortium for the development of 62.4 hectares of the 88-hectare property.

The land to be developed, which is worth about P40.56 billion, would be the share of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“The cultural center has no money to invest, and it could only lease the property to its joint-venture partner,” Jardin said. “We have to hold it [the land] in trust for the Filipino people.”

Other cultural agencies are also bullish on the project.

“They [CCP] just need to go to the proper bidding and process of choosing their partner in this venture. They just have to be very precise and careful in selecting their partner and always be mindful in promoting arts and culture that will eventually provide natural service to Filipinos,” said Cecille Guidote-Alvarez, the executive director of National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

The area being eyed for development will cover the center complex that is bounded by Manila Bay [east and north], Roxas Boulevard [west] and Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue [south].

Project area

Jardin said the area would exclude the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Coconut Palace, Gloria Maris restaurant and Sofitel hotel.

He also pointed out that the project compels the contractor to devote 50 percent of the land to open areas, which would include roads and even a small forest. “I don’t want it to be a concrete jungle, I don’t like it [to be] a mall. I will veto a mall.”

The cultural center president envisions the finished project to house art galleries, offices for digital animation, restaurants, shops and lifestyle markets.

With excitement evident in his voice, Jardin said, “Everything works perfectly well, the timing and the phasing. It is going to be something that every Filipino can be proud of because it will be a landmark structure that will showcase our local architects. Like any other artistic structures around the world, this will showcase our country.”

Beyond the CCP

The term of Jardin as president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines will end on July 26 this year.

Jardin, though, is optimistic that the center would attain its visions and goals. “All of these future directions and plans wouldn’t end with me. I have great faith and certainty that the plans that I laid out will push through.”

He said that he still does not know who the next cultural center president would be, but he already made a recommendation that a board be established for the selection process. “They must come up with three nominees whom they will endorse to President Gloria Arroyo to choose from.”

After his term, Jardin plans to keep working with the arts and culture community as consultant or special project officer. When asked to comment on how he had succeeded in wooing young people to join art and culture activities, he mentioned the “conscious effort not only on my part but with the whole CCP team” that studied the young generation’s lifestyle, preferences and attitude.

“They [young generation] are all techno and Internet savvy, we went heavy on that. On top of the usual press releases and articles in newspapers and magazines, we also went heavy on the Internet. We formed an E-group, and we’re always ‘in.’ All of us have Facebook accounts for events and invitations,” he said.

Thinking “out of the box,” as Jardin put it, kept the cultural center attuned with the youth, offering them Cinemalaya, Virgin Labfest and Wi FI or the dancing festival.

“I think these [fares] helped draw younger audiences to the CCP. We did things we don’t normally do so that they [youth] will enjoy,” Jardin explained.

“I just hope the next CCP president will continue the programs that I and the whole team started because I think we’ve really done a good job.”

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