Ten Reasons Why The Clark Freeport Is Finally Set To Boom
“A rising tide lifts all boats” - if the phrase rings true many signs point to Clark Freeport finally becoming the economic center of Luzon people have long hoped for.
Not to beat a dead horse – but for the better part of 2 ½ decades both local residents and military aficionados alike have watched one of the U.S.’s most prestigious overseas bases become a shadow of its former self. Anyone who was station here between the 1960’s and early 1990’s would echo those sentiments, and for that matter they could probably predict the contents of the next few paragraphs:
After Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 cleanup efforts crept forward at a snails pace, Clark was all but forgotten for a period of time. The place was left abandoned, while most of the buildings were stripped down and looted.
At its peak, Clark was home to some 15,000 permanent military personnel – with a further 30,000-60,000 people on training rotations. It was the United States most highly urbanized overseas military facility, including schools for children of all ages, a community college, and the USAF Hospital. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s, the hospital on Clark was the most advanced U.S. medical facility in Southeast Asia, and one of only two major fixed-place medical facilities located outside of the U.S.
Today, one can only imagine the significance of having an additional, economically prosperous city right next door. Those hard earned greenbacks flowing down into the hands of farmers, nurses, trike drivers, business owners, and the girlfriends who would eventually become wives - or distant memories. Regardless, all these factors would have made this the place to be as many a mantra has whispered. Such a votive has been held in vain for so long that the stories of the former Clark Airbase and Angeles City are somewhat legendary in their own rights.
Perhaps the stars have finally aligned for Clark, which is poised to once again become a major hub for the Philippines. This article offers ten reasons why Clark is on the verge of becoming the next big thing. (Keep in mind: Murphy’s Law applies to this entire list). In no particular order….
The Clark Green City
Approximately 15-kilometers north of the current Clark Freeport, on the Tarlac side of Pampanga, plans are underway to produce a new, highly urbanized area called the Clark Green City (CGC), a district meant to rival Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in terms of urban planning. CGC will utilize 9,450 hectares of the 35,000 hectares acquired for the project, and is estimated to bring in over 1 million residents, 800,000 workers, while having a significant impact on not only the local economy, but the national economy as well.
Why is this a big deal for the area? If you haven’t been to BGC near Taguig in Manila, go have a look for yourself.
For starters, BGC is easily the nicest city in the Philippines, done to 1st world standards, with all the amenities you would find in a major U.S. city; street lights, stop lights, side walks, parking enforcement, a police presence, nice schools, outdoor parks, golf courses, museums, and a litany of both low and high-end shops and restaurants to choose from. Let’s not forget the advantage of burying your wires, both electric and fiber optic, while installing a drainage system that actually works.
BGC is the only place in Manila uniquely zoned without restrictions to vehicular number plating, while preventing jeepneys and trikes from entering with the exception of the Market Market Mall near the entrance to the C5 highway. These traffic constraints alone make the air inside BGC relatively breathable.
Initial plans indicate the CGC project will be half the size of Metro Manila upon completion. Not to be confused with the entire conurbation this is Manila including Quezon City, etc. – CGC’s footprint will still be massive (100 times bigger than BGC).
The city will become an environmentally sustainable and technologically integrated area that boasts a mix of industrial, institutional, and commercial developments. Further investments are being made to convert a portion of the Sacobia area just north of Clark – minutes from Mabalacat, with additional focus being given to the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), the new 230 kV transmission energy project, and the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC).
While not actually located inside of Clark Freeport proper, CGC borrows its name from the base in order to help international investors relate to the location of the project. Lastly, the plan is to make CGC the de facto backup to Manila in the event of a major calamity such as a typhoon or earthquake. The local mountain ranges make it a more ideal spot to put high rises, simultaneously moving further away from the nearest major fault line.
The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) has been vigorously promoting this project since 2013. It is only recently that plans have been completed, budgets have been approved, investments have been made, and dates have been set.
The Emergence Of Branded Hotel Chains
In order for Clark to be dubbed a “rest and relaxation zone” that aims to bring in new types of tourism – there needs to be hotels international travelers are more familiar with. Take for example the Holiday Inn. Holiday Inn at the Mimosa Golf and Country Club was built in 1996 and until 2015 it was the only branded hotel chain inside the Freeport.
With the addition of Park Inn by Radisson in the rear of SM Clark City mall, which opened just two months ago, and last quarter’s announcements by both Marriott and Hilton Resorts to construct properties in the area, these kinds of venues should attract business tourism using their worldwide travel agency affiliations that might not have otherwise come through Clark.
Presidential Approval For Clark Project Budgets
Last September, President Aquino approved transportation and energy budgets for five projects in the Philippines. An additional extension at Clark International Airport happened to be one of them. In December, a deal was also reached to install a 100-megawatt solar power facility in CGC for P11.75 billion.
This makes the newly built terminal one of a handful that are expected to rise at the Clark airport over the next 6-years, increasing the passenger capacity from 4,000,000 to 16,000,000.
The North Rail
Find one person who enjoys the traffic congestion that Manila is notorious for, and you’ll likely be wearing a straight jacket in the padded cell next to them. Manila is choking in traffic and every politician, tourist, and resident is aware of it.
There is nothing more frustrating than taking a several hour journey from (wherever your home is) just to land in one of the world’s most traffic riddled cities.
Spending one-half or one-third of your travel time stuck in a car trying to navigate a measly 60-70 kilometers feels like a nightmare. One of two things are inevitable; either you give in to the fact that you could be in transit for 3-6 hours, or you do your best to arrive in the middle of the night where you stand a chance of getting to Pampanga in 2+ hours. Landing on a Friday around 5 PM? Ahhh, may the force be with you.
The need to alleviate the amount of traffic in Manila is paramount and the 2015 APEC convention brought that fact back into the limelight. The north rail has been in talks since GMA was in office some 6-years ago and so far nothing has happened. It wasn’t until recently that a Japanese firm placed a bid of close to $2 billion to begin construction in 2017. If the train system goes through, it will open up the ability for residents and workers not only in the Manila area, but surrounding areas, to get to Clark without getting (as) stuck.
It might be like shooting a bb gun at a freight train, but the if rail is to built the traffic in Manila could see some help. Less buses traversing EDSA is one way to lighten the load. It certainly doesn’t solve the problem completely as Manila could use more sky trains and a subway – however, the latter seems impossible. Of all the things mentioned on this list, the North Rail seems like the longest shot.
Adjustments To The SCTex And Other Roads
Plans are being made to swing the SCTex interchange into a section of the Clark International Airport. Travellers coming from Manila will not have to exit Clark South near Medical City and drive all the way around the Aeropark and airport – shaving another 10-15 minutes off their journey. A new tollbooth at the MacArthur Highway exit next to Mabalacat is being installed this month.
Secondary roads are being developed to connect CGC to Clark Freeport, and CGC to MacArthur Highway.
The Aeropark is one example of new money coming in to the Clark Freeport. It was recently announced that a group from Hong Kong has gone in for $150 million. Last quarter an Australian group acquired the Stotsenberg Hotel and Casino for almost $30 million.
A major sports training facility is being built up the road from Fontana Leisure Park, and the Clark Zoo is expected to break ground this year. Expect these ventures to continue to trend upward through 2016.
The Philippines Department of Tourism reported an 11% growth in arrivals from 2014 to 2015. Of that, Clark was the 4th busiest airport in the country last year. With the additional budgets approved for terminals there very well may be an uptick in both arrivals and airline options, as new routes are likely to open up again. (Key word, likely.)
The dollar has also strengthened, hovering around $1/P47 for some time despite heavy turmoil in the world markets. Although Korea has an edge in the overall amount of tourists landing in the Philippines, their per capita spending ranked lower than that of Americans. If the dollar continues to strengthen, and the airport recovers some of the routes it lost over the last 2-years, the entire region could bring in new tourists, or tourists who haven’t been back in the last few years.
Medical City’s Eventual Leap Towards Medical Tourism
It doesn’t take an urban planner to understand the importance of having a great hospital in the area to help lure people in for business and residential purposes.
Medical City is one of the top facilities in the Philippines. Clark Medical City might not be fully operational in terms of its own capacity – the mere fact that it is finished and ready to go at a moments notice is a strong bonus for Clark, Angeles City, and the surrounding provinces for that matter. To that end, the center is set to serve both strategic and regional purposes in helping fuel the need for specialized medical care in the area.
Although it is unconfirmed as of now, another large structure has been rumored to be erected adjacent to the hospital in the next year or so to provide offices for private practitioners who specialize in everything from cosmetic surgery to dentistry.
SBMA Blazing A Trail
A hop, skip, and a jump from Clark Freeport is another territory managed by the BCDA known as the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
SBMA is racking up the awards for being one of the best ports in all of Asia. Announcements are pouring through the media about new projects opening up there such as the expansion of the Hanjin Heavy Industries ship builder from Korea. Like Clark, there is a lot of vacant space left to be developed in SBMA. If 2015 is any indication of how quickly SBMA will grow, expect bigger things in 2016-2017.
Three years ago Ayala built the Harborpoint Mall directly across from Olongapo’s SM to give a boost to the retail sector. Best Western recently opened up a hotel there, and the Baypointe Hospital has been operating for 5-years. The buzz seems to be that SBMA is on track to regain American troops now that China is relentlessly building in the South China Sea. Military contractors will be another segment that SBMA will benefit from.
If SBMA were the naval equivalent of CFEZ, it would make sense that each zone is helping to support the other. Whether Clark’s exports are going out in container ships, or SBMA’s exports are flying out through UPS, both freeports create synergy that helps boost the other.
The Outlook Of The Current Presidential Candidates
Two of the front-runners in the upcoming Philippine presidential elections, Mar Roxas and Rodrigo Duterte, have both announced that they will expand Clark’s economic capacity if they are elected.
When was the last time two presidential candidates cared about resurrecting Clark? The country isn’t unified in such a way that announcing Clark as a priority on their agenda would somehow sway enough voters to change the outcome of the elections this year.
Regardless, if either of these politicians get in and stick to their story – Clark might be in for a ride.