MANILA – A brewing legal battle over road access has marred the opening of SM's newest and fanciest mall.
Traffic jams greeted consumers checking out SM Aura in Taguig.
It's not just because there are too many cars trying to park but more because its connection to Ayala's Fort Bonifacio through McKinley Parkway is closed.
On one side of the dispute is Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which is Ayala's partner in Fort Bonifacio.
On the other is the Taguig local government.
BCDA donated 40 hectares of the old military base to Taguig for a civic center, but Taguig leased the property to SM Prime in exchange for building the civic center within SM Aura.
BCDA said the mall shouldn't be there but civic-oriented facilities, unless the donation agreement is amended.
SM tried to pave the road as Aura's opening neared, but BCDA stopped them.
"'Yung lote na kinatatayuan ng SM Aura ngayon is a donated land by BCDA to the city of Taguig to be used for institutional purpose…Ngayon pa lang naging obvious nang i-open na mall ‘yan. Dati kasi ang pagkakasabi civic center eh. So ngayon mapipilitan kami na i-raise ‘yung question. Minamadali lang ng SM at Taguig because of their own schedule,” said BCDA chief executive officer Arnel Casanova.
The road dispute has reached the court.
Casanova said Taguig won a temporary restraining order (TRO) against them, in effect allowing SM to continue the road work.
But the TRO, issued Thursday, was too late for the mall's opening.
"Nag-file ang Taguig ng kaso sa korte, idinemanda ang BCDA. Na-TRO kami para payagan ang SM na ayusin ang kalye," said Casanova.
While the court case is between a government agency, BCDA, and a local government Taguig, their partners are competitors.
Both Ayala Land and SM are shopping mall builders.
At the Fort, Ayala has Market! Market! and shops and restaurants at upscale developments like Serendra and Bonifacio High Street.
Ayala runs the country's highest-end malls but SM positions SM Aura to be its luxury mall right beside Ayala territory.
Heavy traffic could be a turn-off for the finicky high-end consumer.
SM said the traffic is not affecting SM Aura just yet, with lots of visitors at the mall's opening.
But it did say they don't know how traffic could affect its business in the coming days.
SM said it is willing to spend for paving the road, but the decision to open it up is up to Taguig and BCDA.
Ayala Land CEO Tony Aquino said it will await BCDA's guidance, making it seem like the country's two biggest developers are leaving the fate of the dispute in others' hands.