For more than 50 years, DM Wenceslao & Associates Inc. (DMWAI) has been perfecting the art of transformation. From turning water into land in the late ‘80s, to transforming open space into a central business district, the company is constantly changing to suit the needs of the times.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Aseana City, the company’s burgeoning business district along the shores of Manila Bay. Delfin “Buds” Wenceslao, CEO of DMWAI, takes us through the company’s colorful history and how circumstance led them to own one of the most coveted parcels of Metro Manila today.
Wenceslao refers to DMWAI as somewhat of an “accidental developer.” The company started in 1965 as a government contractor for horizontal and infrastructure projects, and in 1989 won the contract to reclaim plots of land on Manila Bay.
“Originally, the plan was to sell the newly reclaimed land and move on to the next project, but the reclamation works finished during the 2000 Asian Financial Crisis when there was little demand for large real estate projects,” said Wenceslao. “That’s when we thought, why don’t we start with a three-story building? This eventually became Aseana Power Station.”
From then, the company leased out parcels to retailer S&R, and service station operator Shell, and built two office buildings, which were quickly snapped up by tenants.
With a portfolio of small and mid-scale developments under its belt, DMWAI filed for an IPO in 2018 to fund the large-scale projects that would come together to form Aseana City, Metro Manila’s newest business district built on one million square meters of land that it reclaimed decades ago.
The company’s two-tower, 69,000-square meter office building, 8912 Aseana Avenue, is due for completion this year in addition to around 300,000 square meters of new developments, with three quarters dedicated to office and retail, and a quarter for residential.
“If we had been able to sell all the properties in 2000, we would have just gone on to another reclamation project, but we got stuck with it and decided to pursue development initially, and then things took a life of their own and that’s how we got to where we are today,” said Wenceslao.
When asked about what projects in the area he is most excited about, Wenceslao is quick to mention Parqal, a mixed-use office and retail development consisting of nine four-story buildings connected by a linear park on ground floor and sky bridges on second and third floors. Wenceslao calls it the company’s “first truly mixed-use development” because it encompasses office, retail, and a public space in one project.
Directly connected to Parqal will be MidPark Towers, a high-end condominium development due for completion in 2023 that is DMWAI’s second residential project in Aseana City. When fully completed, Aseana City will measure six million square meters of built-up area, and contain 300 buildings and structures.
Despite being a relatively new player, DMWAI’s unique position of designing an entire district has given the company a crash course in wholistic development where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That means paying attention to little things like making sure that condos have access to parks and that sidewalks are wide enough, as well as bigger things like making sure that the city has good transport links and that the entire community is safe, explained Wenceslao.
Aseana City will be connected to the LRT-1 extension to Bacoor as well as a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, while the entire community is under CCTV monitoring to ensure the safety of its residents and tenants.
But it begs the question, in a city as dense as Metro Manila, and the trend of decentralization accelerating, why invest in another business district?
For Wenceslao, the draw of the big city is undeniable. “Sixty percent of the world’s population live in cities, and there’s a natural reason why,” said Wenceslao. “It’s where you find jobs, the best infrastructure, best services like hospitals, and a critical mass of knowledge.” It’s not so much about Metro Manila as it is investing in places with access to the best and brightest talent.
For Wenceslao and his team, in a location with enviable views of Manila Bay on one side and skyscrapers on the other, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to leave.