By Kris Danielle Suarez
A formerly vacant lot in Quezon City - occupied only by a carnival at Christmastime - is now a hub of frenzied construction activity. It is being transformed into a world-class information technology (IT) park.
The University of the Philippines (UP) and Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) teamed up to develop Phase I of the 98.5-hectare UP North Science and Technology Park, a center for science and technology research and development. This is the first of its kind in the Philippines.
The UP-Ayala Technohub, as it is called, is a 37.5-hectare development along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, which, upon completion, will house firms in the high-technology fields and high-value business process outsourcing (BPO) services, start-up companies, and incubate companies.
For UP, the IT park "fits right in" with the university’s vision to be a leading research university. The Technohub is planned to be a center where research and technology-based collaborative projects between industry and academe thrive.
UP also sees the park to be a "catalyst for development" of information technology and IT-enabled services, which would pave the way for "transforming innovative ideas" into products and services of the companies in the park.
UP vice-president for development Ruperto Alonzo said that the park, aside from housing IT companies (like those in telecoms, telematics, biotechnology), would go beyond the usual BPO services (the likes of contact centers).
The park would be home to "high-end" services such as wealth management, financial analysis, software development, and design and engineering services.
The park would also provide a two-way flow of ideas between the companies in the park and the UP community, and is envisioned to be a vehicle for collaboration between the industry and the academe.
Place for startups
For ALI, the rationale of building an IT park was simple: to help in developing the budding IT industry of the country by providing an incubation facility for IT startups that would nurture them, said ALI Project Development Manager Marc Reyes.
The park – a P6.5 billion investment by ALI – was designed with these companies in mind, specifically IT start-ups - "those that literally start in garages or small rooms with only a few people manning operations," Reyes said.
Start-ups would first be housed in the incubator area. After a period of three to four years, the "incubatee" - if the company becomes successful - would then "graduate" to the multi-tenant buildings, where it would enjoy larger office space and can have more opportunities to expand. If the company grows further, it could eventually move to its own building.
The design of the park allows for collaboration between small and big companies, said Reyes.
Retention of talent
The park will also provide opportunities for on-the-job training and employment for UP's students and alumni, and, for students and professors into research, open up opportunities to work with companies along their line of interest.
In addition, Alonzo hopes that the park would help stem the exodus of the university's professors to other universities or countries by providing them with venues where they could share their expertise through consultancy and collaborative works with the companies.
UP’s science community and ALI aren't the only ones to benefit from the development, said Reyes. Other disciplines, such as the humanities and the social sciences, will also find ways of collaborating with companies in the park.
"There is a plan to integrate the whole university [with the park]... we are currently in the process of pointing out how colleges can collaborate with the different companies in the park," he said.
The park would generate employment of 30,000 to 40,000. These would mostly be people with "specialized knowledge" such as engineers, scientists, and financial analysts, as well as those working in support services, Reyes said.
The government would also stand to benefit, mainly in taxes from the companies operating in the park.
A long time coming
The S&T park has long been planned by the UP administration, dating back to the time of former UP president Emil Javier, said UP Ruperto Alonzo.
However, it was only during the time of former UP president Francisco Nemenzo that the planning for the development of the area took off.
In June 2000, Nemenzo formed a technical working group assigned to prepare a master plan for the university’s north and south S&T parks. In January 2001, the master plan – containing comprehensive plans for the S&T parks as well as for the National Science Complex (NSC) – was finished.
The South S&T Park was the first park to be developed, although the development was hampered, said Alonzo, by the presence of informal settlers in the area allotted for the park.
On the other hand, the North S&T Park had little problems, due to the fact that the land was unoccupied and that squatters were mostly at the fringes of the property.
The bidding process for the development of the land started in 2002, and after several bidding attempts, ALI was awarded the project in 2005.
It is the second S&T-related property development inside the Diliman campus, the first one being the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) developed by UP and the Ayala Foundation, located at the university’s eastern fringes.
Construction commenced October 2007, and as of April, two buildings are already finished and partially occupied. IBM is the only tenant so far, occupying one whole floor in one of the completed buildings as the company awaits completion of itsown building.
Within 2008, Reyes said, ALI targets to finish the six planned front row of buildings, and the last four buildings at the back area of the park by next year.
ALI has only developed around 20 hectares of their allotted area, and the development of the remaining areas - which is planned for residential and hotel facilities - will proceed according to market conditions, said Reyes.
The residential and hotel component will complement the area near the Asian Institute of Tourism, and is planned to serve the park's employees, tenants and locators.
Aside from the two buildings already finished, a retail strip fronting Commonwealth Avenue – which will house service facilities for the park’s tenants as well as to the public - is also being constructed.
The design of the IT park is environment- and pedestrian-friendly, with numerous green spaces and allotments for covered pedestrian walks between buildings to lessen vehicular traffic in the complex.
The park also has a park with a lagoon in the middle that would have recycled water, and a centralized air conditioning facility for efficient energy use.
Income for UP
UP leased the 37.5-hectare property to ALI for a period of 25 years, and technically, ALI owns the buildings and handles the park's day-to-day operations.
However, UP does more than just provide the space for ALI to develop an IT park.
As part of their partnership, Reyes said Ayala is encouraging tenants to collaborate with the university.
"UP provides the land, Ayala provides the development, but it goes beyond that. It’s a collaboration," Reyes added.
The park is projected to earn P200 million a year upon full development, which, Alonzo said, would be a "substantial addition" to UP's operating income and dwindling government subsidy.
Alonzo also said that throughout the lease period it is projected that the park will earn P4 billion. However, he said that the actual income would depend on existing market conditions.
Symbol of advancement of technology
Both Alonzo and Reyes said that the park would help in advancing science and technology in the country.
Both expressed hope that in the future, the UP North S&T Park would be a landmark as well as a symbol of progress, as well as a benchmark for similar parks that industries and other universities might put up in the near future.
As UP President Emerlinda Roman put it in her speech during the park’s groundbreaking last March 2007, the science park is "an act of faith and hope: faith in the future of the University, and hope for the future of the country."
"We’re taking extra effort to make this a symbol of the advancement of technology [and] progress of UP and the country," Reyes said.
"I hope [the park] would help in the S&T situation of the country in the long run... [I hope it would] help keep our scientists here, [and] help develop the industry," Alonzo said.
The technopark hopes to replicate the success of similar parks abroad, such as the Singapore Science Park at the National University of Singapore, the Tsukuba Science Cty at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and, of course, Stanford University's legendary Silicon Valley, home to countless giants of the IT industry.
But can this S&T park replicate the success of these parks?
"It would take time," Alonzo said. "It won't happen overnight... but we're getting there," he added.