90-year-old Binondo building to be turned into call center


Binondo district in Manila: Rife for redevelopment PHOTO BY RICK ALBERTO

MANILA, Philipines—A 90-year-old building in Binondo, Manila, is set to house call center locators with the prospect of starting the ball rolling for the revival of the historic Escolta commercial district.

The heritage building where the First National City Bank used to be is being restored and will be open for marketing as Juan Luna e-Services Building in a couple of months.

“We have a lot of buildings (in Escolta) that are not occupied. We don’t want to tear them down. The call center industry is growing and we have the talent and space. It’s just a matter of transforming these buildings into usable space,” said property developer Jose Berenguer III, vice president of Gealach Inc.

Under the law, 50-year-old buildings could only be modified or torn down after an evaluation and approval of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Through adaptive reuse, as what is being done in Juan Luna Building, the heritage buildings on Escolta could be refurbished into technology centers while maintaining the architectural aesthetics and the district’s historical identity.

“Escolta used to be a high-end shopping center; we had the best jewelry and clothes stores. For example, the building of Savory Chicken used to be Estrella del Norte, which was a very fine jewelry store,” said Gemma Cruz-Araneta, president of the Heritage Conservation Society, which has been meeting with Escolta building owners for more than a year now.

“Escolta has been central to the history of this city for centuries,” architect Dominic Galicia, former HCS vice president, had said in a dialogue with the city government more than a year ago, when the BPO@Escolta initiative started.

“Memory is an important part of the human experience. I am talking about the confluence of elements that makes an experience of lasting impact,” he said then. “Such a confluence resides in Escolta, between Plaza Moraga and Plaza Sta. Cruz, and hidden—not deeply, but still hidden—by Meralco wires and the indifference of a city.”

Plans for Escolta renewal will also have to address flooding, transport, traffic and security issues.

Arturo Dy, president of the Escolta Commercial Association Inc., said, “We have two bridges, only if we can organize jeepneys to move with one coming in and one coming out. And only if we can make the jeepneys move and not stay in the corner.”

He also cited the need to light up the walkways to the LRT line and keep out the beggars, rugby boys and snatchers.

Dy said that in previous talks, call center companies had expressed the need for a redundant power source and optic fiber, which were available in Escolta with some rewiring and extension. The need for a pool of manpower is also addressed with the numerous universities in the area.

But he rued the prevailing “wait-and-see” attitude that “I will do this if somebody does this.”

For architect Manolo Noche, HCS corporate secretary, things will fall into place once the right investors are drawn in the area.

“To a certain extent, (Berenguer’s) endeavor to bring e-commerce in Escolta will bring a certain amount of interest especially for businesses looking for space that want a certain level of history involved in the location,” Noche said.

“If you’re able to attract that type of client, then everything else will follow. Once you have the company, this will bring in employment opportunities,” he said, adding that call center companies would necessitate 24/7 operating facilities, dormitories for the agents, and a kind of lifestyle that would be attractive to riverside cafes.

“There can be a marriage of preserving and at the same time moving to a new direction. It’s a matter of attracting developers that could be enlightened with palatable solutions to the development here,” Noche said.

Building owner Andrew Arriola said the initiative to revive Escolta would be a way of giving back to the city that has historically nurtured the businesses. “Renewal in Manila is being done step by step, we want to be ahead. Escolta has been very resilient despite the challenges. We have continued despite the setbacks.”

“We believe that in due time, Binondo will be rife for redevelopment,” Berenguer said.

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  • TheMightyOne

    About time to revive the old glory of Escolta :) please support this project and make it a lively place again.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VPSXDLCQEZGZDJSX32G7PYHNCI Noel

    There would be no further foreign investment unless we assure security and peace.  Beggars, snatchers and other criminal elements must be eliminated.

    • EOJ

       All countries have security problems, snatchers, beggars, and criminal elements. All of those are present even in the united states, the world’s biggest economy.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/RTQRGKHFGLKSSJAK5J5PLOXAQQ Halo

         So you’re saying, lets not care about the crimes happening right now in manila since cities in the us also experience violent crimes? I just pray nothing harm happens to you.

  • randyaltarejos

    Redevelop the area along the edge of the river into modern cafes like those in Venice. I’m sure  call center agents will be your captive customers, especially if the area is properly secured from bad elements. Install a police outpost near the building, too.

  • Bansot

    ” Memories of lively Escolta bring a lot of “Nostalgia”. It used to be a vibrant and first class shoppling centre in the early  1960!!  I really hope that we can do something to revive this place.


    This is a great move. A thriving escolta is a microcosm of a thriving philippines.

  • OFWs – symptom of sick economy

    that is the way! galing! maraming salamat. go go go Manila.

    the historical and stylish places are available and authentic already…they are all in Manila! you don’t need to recreate them like Libis or other similar places. it is there. experience the real thing!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WIWYLFLU4LPKS7B2ZLLRVFKS3Y vir_a

    The main problem in that area is security of pedestrians. Remove this problem and business atmosphere will come into place. The river should be removed of stinky substances which drive away people from passing the area. Reroute jeepneys from Divisoria to ease up traffic and instead deploy aircon buses.

  • hustlergalore

    finally. escolta is actually beautiful albeit the ugly meralco kawads.

  • boybakal

    Very good idea….let those old buildings be given life by being useful.
    Preservation of the past and useful at the present.
    Sana more to come….

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VS5EYSP4FPOTVQCJZ24NRE6Z2M Edgardo Mendoza


  • Ping Gonzales

    Sabihin nyong walang nagawa 0 magagawa si mayor lim, isa ito sa inaasahan sa pnoys, itong mayor na walang bahid na cooruption simula pa noon hepe ng polisia hanggang ngayong nag mayor na ikumpara mo doon sa posing posing lang ang puhunan di lang corruption babaero pa kahiya hiya tsk tsk

  • Rogers Nelson Uy

    wow marami na namang mahoholdap.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RTQRGKHFGLKSSJAK5J5PLOXAQQ Halo

    Thank God for the private sector for spearheading the urban renewal of manila.  If manila is to depend on mayor lim, manila will forever be a waste basket.  Its current condition is appaling, garbage is everywhere, beggars, homeless, snatcher, pickpockets, prostitutes, holduppers, drug addicts rule the streets.  Kuligligs, pedicabs are the new kings of the road, they drive without any regards for traffic rules or pedestrian safety and many of them are holduppers.  Street vendors occupy every available space thus slowing movement of people and goods almost to a halt. Chaos and confusion reign supreme in this wretched excuse for a city.

    Meanwhile , we often read news reports of corruption involving the mayor and his vice mayor. And often too they hang their dirty laundry for all to see. And all these are happening just within a spit’s throw away from the center of power, the malacanang palace. I dunno if palace people are blinded by power and money or something but cant they even remind the mayor and the mmda to do something about the city. Homeless people sleeps, eats, cooks, defecate right outside the security gates going into the palace. What a shame!

  • JunPyo123

    Oh finally! I am emotionally happy about this news. Mabuti pa itong pribadong sektor, nakapag babalak ng matino kahit papano. Ang daming mga magagandang structures dito – pangit nga lang dahil sa kapabayaan pero kung tutuusin, legacy ito ng pre-war Manila. Swerte nga ang Sta. Cruz-Escolta area kasi sa lahat ng mga lugar sa Manila, ito ang hindi gaanong nabomba nung giyera. Kaya marami pa din mga nakatayong lumang gusali.

    Mayor Lim, huwag na kayong kumontra dito. Matagal nang kinakailangan ng Maynila ng ganitong mga proyekto. 

  • AJ Giorgio

    matagal ko na rin iniisip kung anong silbi ng mga lumang buildings sa maynila.. wala namang tao, hindi naman ginagamit na museum.. panahon na talaga para palitan ang mga building sa Manila.. bukod sa nasasayang lang ang space, lumipas na ang historical value ng mga yan.. mas maganda kung mapapakinabangan ngayon. siguraduhin lang na ligtas pang gamitin, kung sakaling lumindol ng malakas..

  • Danielle Ayes

    Kung balak nilang gawing isang BPO district ang Escolta, sana lang magdagdag sila ng security sa area. Since that stretch is known for robbery.

  • efriend

    This is good news.  Mayor Alfredo Lim did not seize the opportunity.  Manila is very rich in history.  Unfortunately, Manila is a filthy city with lots of squatters and padyaks.  It is a reflection of years of mismanagement of Lim.  Lim has to go.

    There is hope for this area of the city. Remember the broken windows theory which was adopted by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HCCTT6COHRQZD2NJIWM4UGXDEU Dibo Dragon

    “And only if we can make the jeepneys move and not stay in the corner.”

    this is your major problem to solve.  good luck.

  • joboni96

    mabuhay kayo

    sana’y may mas malawak pang
    archaeological digs sa manila

    nang matanto natin
    na malakas na kultura nating pilipino
    kahit wala pa intsik at kastila

    pati rin sa pampanga area
    ni tarik soliman

    ng hindi hanggang kailan
    kolonisadong utak ang maraming pilipino

    walang alam sa pinanggalingan natin

  • Alex

    Manila will outlive Lim and all inept mayors who only want personal gains at the expense of this beloved city and its true citizens. One day, one day somebody will save this ever loyal city. Rise up Manilenyo !

  • http://www.sushidigital.com.au/ Sushi Digital Web Development

    Escolta was once a great street and center of commerce in the Phils. Because of protectorate business it lost to Makati. Hope if will get revive now…

  • ShineMother

    ewww! it’s in binondo? yuck! people make dura and tapon on the streets, beggars make limos and higa everywhere, drivers make utot and sigaw while driving! It’s so masikip and madumi there, I don’t wanna work there! ~~sabi ng call center agent. hehehe

  • Dog


  • joshua kings

    magandang balita at initiative ito; dapat nga na magtulungan at mag-cooperate ang city admin at private sector para sa ikauunlad ng bayan…..pero kung call center, lalong dadami ang business activity dyan.
    siguro po, dapat ngayon pa lang, ayusin na nangmaigi ang trapiksituation dyan sa bloke ng azcarraga, QB, lawton, del pan at reina regente/binondo….dahil sa nagyon, nakakawalang gana magpasyal dyan; biruin mo, mula recto/avenida hanggang sta cruz church, aabutin ka nang atleast 30 minutos kung naka-dyipni ka; buti pa maglakad ka na lang, at mauuna ka pa sa dyip.

  • http://www.brownmantrips.com/ ian l www.brownmantrips.com

    the developments in Escolta has been very exciting…. this is a proof that the private sector can make a difference even without government support. But then again, this is not a reason for the government to just let the private sector do all the work.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VS5EYSP4FPOTVQCJZ24NRE6Z2M Edgardo Mendoza


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GEL5M676WZ7BLFR4SNH66WKRZM Bigboy I

    e bat yung building ng jai alai di na prevent na gibain!? 

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