The history of Cebu as one of the Philippines’ most vibrant and important cities goes back to pre-colonial times. A prince called Sri Lumay used to burn the settlement to ward off pirates and invaders, leading to the name Sugbo (from Kang Sri Lumayng Sugbo, or Sri Lumay’s scorched earth). Another story tells about the old Cebuano word sibu (“trade”) for which many believe the area’s name has come from.
Whichever the legends say, both origins refer to Cebu’s strategic position at the center of growing commerce, one that the incoming colonizers would also value. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines after the Battle of Mactan, they built upon it Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus in honor of the Child Jesus. This was the first capital of the Philippines before Manila.
Throughout the centuries, the population of Cebu has experienced remarkable growth, now with nearly 1 million residents. This surge in population is a testament to the city’s prosperity and progress as an important commercial port and cultural hub. As a result, the city’s growth has spilled over to the neighboring region, expanding to an urban area now known as Metro Cebu.
Metro Cebu encompasses seven cities, including three highly urbanized cities, as well as six municipalities. With over 3 million residents occupying a land area of 1,063 square kilometers, Metro Cebu is nearly 1.5 times the size of Singapore. This significant expansion highlights the dynamic and thriving nature of the region.
Following the waning effect of the pandemic, Metro Cebu is experiencing economic resurgence, including the rest of Central Visayas. This region’s gross domestic product grew by 7.6% in 2022 at par with the national growth rate. A resurging tourism sector, which has put Cebu as the Philippines’ second most visited destination in the Philippines pre-pandemic, expanded by 47.2%, boosted growth. The region’s economy is further supported by sectors such as manufacturing and exports, business process outsourcing, real-estate, agriculture, and trade. According to estimates from the Cebu IT-BPM Organization (CIB.O), Cebu employed between 180,000 and 190,000 BPO professionals in 2020, an increase from 170,000 the year prior.
The metropolis is approaching the post-pandemic era with many more infrastructural facelifts. Infrastructure has already changed the landscape over the last two decades. In 2010, the Cebu South Coastal Road was launched and connected Talisay with downtown Cebu. A new modern terminal with a capacity of 12.5 million passengers annually was opened in 2018, and the iconic bridge of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway was introduced in 2022, connecting Mactan Island through Cordova to Cebu City via Cebu SRP.
Metro Cebu’s two major business districts – the Cebu Business Park and the Cebu IT Park – have also put the metropolis on the map for investors, especially to IT-BPM companies. From 215,800 sqm of office stock in 2009, both districts have reached a total of nearly 740,500 sqm as of Q1 2023. Collectively accounting for 56% of office stock in Metro Cebu, CBP and Cebu IT Park have recorded 17% and 11% in vacancy, respectively, during the same period.
Two new business districts are rising in Cebu and both have the potential to boost economic activity in the region.
Cebu South Road Properties (SRP) was established in response to the rapid urbanization and population growth of Cebu City, as well as the limited availability of land for development. It is a significant development area, covering 300 hectares of reclaimed land along the coast of Cebu, south of the city’s central business districts.
Cebu SRP has attracted renowned real estate developers, making it a prime location for urban expansion:
A sprawling 30-hectare area that houses Cebu’s largest shopping mall, SM Seaside Cebu. This complex has injected a substantial retail presence into the Cebu market.
A joint venture between the Cebu City Government and Universal Hotel and Resort. This 9-hectare facility on Cebu SRP offers a diverse range of amenities, including restaurants, bars, a convention center, a casino, and an integrated retail complex. NUSTAR Resort and Casino had a partial opening in 2022, with further developments planned for the future.
The Filinvest group is also present in the area with Citi Di Mare, a 58-hectare mixed-use development. Citi Di Mare is the largest development in Cebu South Road Properties in terms of land area. It features Il Corso, a retail complex with 35,000 gross leasable area (GLA), which attracts foot traffic. Future development in Il Corso is expected to include mid-to-high-rise residential and office buildings.
The partnership between Ayala Land and SM Prime has led to the creation of South Coast City, a city-within-a-city concept. This ambitious project, spanning 26 hectares and valued at Php 300 billion, aims to establish the newest business district in Cebu Province. South Coast City will offer a wide range of commercial and residential spaces, along with various amenities and facilities. The collaboration between Ayala Land and SM Prime highlights their significant investment and commitment to transforming Cebu South Properties into a thriving and vibrant urban center.
Meanwhile, there is also the Cebu North Reclamation Area, a barren reclaimed land that preceded the development of Cebu SRP. Covering an extensive area of 200 hectares in Mandaue City, the North Reclamation Area has been strategically designated by the City Government to become a premier business district.
A notable development found within the Cebu North Reclamation Area is Mandani Bay, a waterfront development spanning over 20 hectares and a joint venture project between Hongkong Land and Taft Properties. Mandani Bay features a mix of residential towers, commercial spaces, and extensive green spaces. The development also includes retail shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The transformation of these reclaimed areas can be attributed to the presence of robust infrastructure projects, particularly bridges, which have significantly improved the connectivity and accessibility between Mactan Island – both a tourist and air transport hub – and the rest of the Cebu Metropolitan Area.
Three important bridge infrastructures must be highlighted. The Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway, a bridge that connects Cebu City to Mactan Island, does not only provide a faster and more convenient route for commuters. The improved connectivity has brought in investments, businesses, and industries, contributing to the economic growth within SRP and its neighboring area.
Similarly, the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge, which connects Mandaue City to Lapu-Lapu City has played a crucial role in facilitating the development and growth of Cebu Business Park and Cebu IT Park, serving as a vital transportation link for goods, services, and people between the two cities.
Cebu’s transformation will continue until the foreseeable future. Already, two major infrastructure projects are on their way that are worth at least Php 171.8 billion in investments. The Metro Cebu Expressway is a 56.9-kilometer road from Naga to Danai that will reduce travel time from 3 hours to just 50 minutes. While a portion of the first phase; Naga to Minglanilla is about to be completed, the second phase; Minglanilla to Cebu City to Mandaue is likely to be finished by 2031.
Another bridge is also envisioned to connect Cebu and Mactan Island. This fourth bridge, worth Php 76.4 billion, will reduce travel time from the Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the Cebu Port Area from 45 minutes down to just 25 minutes during peak hours. The construction will last until 2028.
The growth and development of Cebu continues to create new opportunities and fertile grounds for progress. Infrastructures are ushering in a promising era for Cebu, ensuring that the metropolis remains at the forefront of growth and prosperity in the region.