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SM Seaside City: Far from the madding crowd, but near the heart & soul of Cebuanos |

Sunday Lifestyle

SM Seaside City: Far from the madding crowd, but near the heart & soul of Cebuanos

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star

Exploring SM Seaside City Cebu is like walking on a field of dreams. Once, this was a watery area separated by a bridge from Cebu’s madding crowd. Then, the Sy family saw it, fortified it with solid land, and started building their dream city on it. First, a church, then a mall. In a few years, there will be residential condominiums, hotels, a convention and exhibition center, a school and hospital. And a tower where one can have a view of the whole city.

“It is far from the metropolis of Cebu. But Cebu is already crowded,” says Tessie Sy-Coson who sees it as the next growth hub of Cebu. “With the opening of the new, expanded Cebu International Airport in 2017-2018, we will be ready for the tourism boom in Cebu.”

“The location holds a big potential, as it gives a spectacular view of the sea on one side, and the mountains on the other,” adds Hans Sy. “It will be a refreshingly new modern area, with state-of-the-art features.”

Tessie and Hans are continuing the vision of their father, retail king Henry Sy Sr., who decades ago saw that a mall  is not just a mall. It can be the start of a lifestyle destination that can redefine the way people live, work and play.

“SM Seaside City is a catalyst that will trigger dynamism and progress for Cebu. It will be a city worth living for,” declares Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama.

Last Thursday, Cebu’s elite and Manila's top businessmen converged at SM Seaside City for its inauguration. I joined them and I was awed by the huge circular structure, so stunning in its modernity, I felt I needed a guide and I found the perfect one — Millie Dizon, senior VP for marketing and communications for SM — who has spent the past 30 years practically living in and loving SM Malls. Millie also knows the core values and the work ethic of the Sy family. “I learn so much from them,” she says. She has explored every Philippine city where there is an SM Mall and the book she produced on these garnered an international award. This super workaholic with winged feet can make me fly on this field of dreams.

“Let’s first drive around the whole area so you can have an overview of the 30-hectare space,” Millie starts as we marvel at the view. “When the hotel is built, visitors can have a choice between a view of the sea or the mountains.”

Just then, a modern structure caught my eye. A museum? A gallery? "No, that's the Chapel of Pedro Calungsod which was finished in 2012  in time for the canonization of the saint.Just as the Shrine of Jesus preceded the building of SM Mall of Asia, this chapel was the first to rise at the Seaside. The chapels with every mall were built upon the request of  Mrs. Felicidad Sy.."

Designed by US-based architect Carlos Arnaiz, the chapel has 100 walls of varying heights.The structure exudes serenity, with pocket gardens of bamboo giving you a feeling of calm.Cebuanos come here to pray (many miracles have been attributed to Pedro Calungsod), and to celebrate weddings and baptisms.This chapel surely connects with the heart and soul of Cebuanos.

Driving farther, we see the Cube (jumble the letters and you get Cebu) at the facade of the mall. “This 21 x 21-meter sculpture of steel signifies the strength and resiliency of both Cebuanos and Filipinos,” explains Millie. As we enter the mall, we see concentric arcs from the huge high-ceilinged space. The corridors are all wide, and the stairways look like works of art. “There’s the Cinderella stairway,” Millie points to one.

Then we walk by the many shops which are mainstays in SM Malls — SM Store, SM Hypermarkets, SM Appliance Center, Ace Hardware, Watsons, Our Home, Kultura Filpino, Toy Kingdom, Surplus and Sports Central. The global stores such as Sweden’s H&M, Japan's Uniqlo, Spain’s Sfera, UK’s The Body Shop and the US-based Forever 21 have  pretty store windows that shopaholics can’t resist.

We pass through familiar restaurants such as our favorite Cabalen, Soi  and Mesa, and Millie tells us that foodies will also enjoy Cebu’s homegrown ones such as Cafe Laguna, Kuya J, Harbour City, Majestic, Golden Cowrie and Bo’s Coffee. We take a peek at the Food Court and notice the modern illusion of stringed circles on the ceiling. It doesn’t look typically fast-food at all.

The best of Cebu retail shops, on the other hand, include the Golden ABC Group’s Penshoppe, Oxygen, Forme, Memo and Regatta, plus Island Souvenirs and Loalde.

For leisure, the IMAX Theater, a 16-lane Bowling and Amusement Center and an Olympic-size ice skating rink are impressive. State -of-the-art cinemas, two Director’s Clubs(where butlers are at your service) one live theater with constantly-changing light effects are stunning entertainment venues.

After all the walking where we surely lost a few pounds, we head for the SM Prestige Lounge which really looks more chic and comfy than most lounges at our airports. I love the neat gray and white interiors of the Lounge, though the first thing I looked for were their massage chairs just like those at the SM Makati Prestige Lounge. But the cool drinks and snacks catch our attention first.

We ask Millie about other SM Mall openings she has witnessed, and she says three memorable ones come to mind: “In Pampanga in the year 2000, we were pleasantly shocked that so many people came, it took me two hours to wade through the crowds to reach the exit. And the next shocker was the MOA opening where one million people came on opening day,” Millie recalls. “But perhaps the most memorable was the SM Aura opening because Sarah Jessica Parker was our special guest. She is a really nice person, a true icon with an effortless way of dressing.”

On its opening to the public last Friday, SM Seaside City itself  attracted a humongous crowd of Cebuanos. As if to prove that the Sy family's retail vision makes sense. Build far away from the madding crowd, even a solitary mall at first, in your field of dreams. And they will come.



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Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook@milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at

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