HCMC’s landscape is undergoing a gamechanging transformation in the wake of what is widely believed to be the start of an upward trend in its property cycle.
Photography by Jan Yong
HIn the previous article, we touched on the Ho Chi Minh City’s urban renewal initiative as advocated in its masterplan. With the warming of the real estate market in 2015 from its 2008- 2014 frozen state, developers are starting to realise their landscape altering projects. With renewed optimism often associated by being at the start of an upward trend in a property cycle and increased capital liquidity in the market, construction sites are appearing throughout HCMC’s Core Central Region (CCR). The CCR is undoubtedly the epicentre of the development “earthquake” shaking up the municipality.
At the micro level of HCMC’s urban renewal, the CCR will witness the making way of state facilities and infrastructure that are of no heritage value and replacing them with modern skyscrapers; key heritage buildings will be conserved and expanded to include modern extensions built around them; the subterranean area of downtown Saigon (also recognised as the Central Business District) will be utilised fully; and a modern public transportation network will be put in place.
These ground level plans when implemented, will contribute to the success of HCMC’s master planning and renewal at the macro level, assisting to solve the socio-economic problems plaguing the city; there will be massive improvement to the inadequate public transport system, better planning and efficient use of scarce city centre land, the preservation of HCMC’s culture and history, and the resettlement of people to the city fringes and satellite regional centres.
The traditional downtown area once known as Saigon, covering Districts 1 and 3, has been expanded in HCMC’s masterplan to encompass the area located on the river banks along Saigon River in parts of Districts 4 and Binh Thanh, along the Tau Hu-Ben Nghe Canal that separates Districts 1 and 4, as well as the induction of Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2 on the East bank of the Saigon River across from the Central Business District as part of the newly zoned Core Central Region. According to Tuoi Tre (a popular Vietnamese newspaper), the makeup of the CCR in part will follow these principles:
The primary zone for trading and financial activities covering District 1 and includes trade centres, hotels, administrative agencies and public service providers. Le Loi and Nguyen Hue Streets will become pedestrian shopping areas.
The cultural and historical zone surrounding Le Duan Street area, including low-rise buildings housing universities, cultural centres, administrative offices, religious structures and hospitals. In addition, there will be a new green space containing Thong Nhat Hall, and the Zoological and Botanical Garden.
The West bank of Saigon River zone located near Tan Thuan Bridge will be home to cultural centres, recreational facilities and public spaces.
The low-rise zone made up of residential areas that includes heritage villas built during colonial rule. Streets attracting tourism such as Le Loi, Nguyen Hue, Dong Khoi and part of Huynh Thuc Khang will be converted for pedestrian use only.
The downtown fringe zone situated right next to the trading and financial zone, where modern skyscrapers for commercial use will be built around the Ben Thanh metro terminal, along Ham Nghi Street, Ben Nghe Canal, and Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
A journey of a thousand steps begins with the first; works have already started in accordance with the masterplan. We will now take a closer look at key areas within the CCR that is set for a makeover, as well as the individual projects that will permanently redefine its look.
DOWNTOWN SAIGON (CBD) – THE OLD MAKING WAY FOR THE NEW
As part of the urban renewal process of the old Saigon downtown area (Saigon being the old colonial core of HCMC), clusters of thin and narrow buildings are being en-bloc and cleared; in their stead sit construction sites promising modern skyscrapers when constructions are completed. A landmark development in HCMC typifying such urban renewal is none other than “The One” by Bitexco. The project sits on approximately 8,600 sqm of prime land (a stone’s throw across from the popular Ben Thanh Market and just behind the central bus station in HCMC) which used to be occupied by rows of narrow terraced townhouses. The land owners were compensated and the buildings torn down to make way for “The One”.
In its submitted plans, there are basically 2 towers linked to each other by a podium; the 55-floor West Tower consisting of office space in the bottom half and a hotel in the upper half, and the 48-floor East Tower made up of serviced apartments. When completed in 2017, The One will add more than 31,800 sqm of retail space, 17,300 sqm of Grade A office space, serviced apartments and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Due to its prime location right in the heart of the CCR, this project is classified as a landmark, typifying how old narrow houses are making way for modern skyscrapers.
Yet another landmark development also by Bitexco is Nguyen Cu Trinh Centre; a 600,000 sqm GFA mixed development that comprises residential, retail, hospitality and office components. In addition, this project includes a residential resettlement area of around 100,000 sqm (GFA) and the new Saigon Hospital of approximate 36,000 sqm (GFA). This development similarly replaced the typical thin terraced townhouses that used to occupy the land. Once completed in 2020, this project will be the landmark of the western gateway into the CCR, standing head and shoulder above the rest of its low-rise neighbourhood due to a lack of high-rise buildings in the general vicinity.
Another noteworthy example of landscape game changers is the row of old buildings making way for modern skyscrapers all along Ton Duc Thang Street that is fronting the Saigon River in District 1. This row of prime real estate is blessed by unblocked views of the river and Thu Thiem New Urban Area, and will have a dedicated metro station serving it. Released renderings and plans include the Nexus Complex by developers VietCapital and Refico. It is expected to entail a mix-development of retail, commercial offices and high-end residential. Under construction commercial projects that have already started to change HCMC’s downtown skyline here are Waterfront Saigon and Vietcombank Tower.
Preserving what is left of the past
In the historical quarters of what once was known as Saigon stretching from Ben Thanh Market to the Opera House, historical buildings of heritage value are being conserved and altered to include modern extensions, for example the Saigon Tax Trade Centre (built in the 1880s and renovated several times) after much public outcry was approved for partial preservation and to incorporate with a new modern 40-floor commercial building and the Municipal People’s Committee Building (built in 1888) is slated to be expanded by modern extensions whilst conserving its old architecture, the state has recently called for ideas on how best to revamp this very important heritage piece of HCMC.
For each conserved heritage building, there are many others that did not survive demolishment. Once grand colonial era buildings (full of character, history and culture) along Dong Khoi Street, a main commercial and entertainment artery since the French colonial rule have been completely demolished to make way for modern development projects that are to be used as administrative or commercial purposes. The built-up area in front of the Opera House consisting of colonial era and new buildings housing businesses and 129 residences is also earmarked to make way for a new 8-floor trade centre. Also, in the former colonial era French residential quarters, many colonial Villas under the administration of the state have been sold away to developers to pave the way for modern developments, effectively removing traces of the past era.
Relocation of socio-economic facilities
The historic aged Ba Son Shipyard currently operated by the Ministry of Defence is being relocated out of HCMC to free prime land for redevelopment. Renderings of a mixed development mega project dubbed Ba Son City 21 has been released in the past providing a look at what the future holds, a bid of USD5 billion was put in by a South Korean developer and is pending approval from the state government.
Subterranean Metro train stations will be built downtown; these stations will be interconnected to planned developments in close proximity. The Ben Thanh Market Metro Station will feature 3 basement levels and apart from serving the metro lines passing through it, will also house retail stores for the provision of amenities to commuters. Another terminal under the intersections of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue streets in front of the Opera House and in close proximity to Saigon Tax Trade Centre and the People’s Committee Building will have 4 basement levels and house a large underground trade centre; works are expected to commence this year.