Youth Movement
Property Report|August - September 2021
Young members of a storied family shift property development in Cebu forward with a smart, green commercial tower, rising tall above an heirloom estate
Al Gerard De La Cruz

For more than 140 years, the Garcias and the Escaños have influenced trade and commerce in Cebu, with diversified interests in sectors ranging from electricity to interisland shipping. Now a new generation has propelled the patrician clan to the vanguard of property development.

JEG Tower @ One Acacia is the debut high-rise venture of JEG Development Corporation (JDC), the real estate enterprise by the descendants of business powerhouse Jose Escaño Garcia.

Pre-certified LEED Silver for core and shell, the grade A building represents a technological, sustainable leap for built spaces outside Manila. The 22-storey tower, designed by Casas Architects, recalls the Flatiron Building with its svelte profile, but with a diagonally slanting, tapered corner.

When Marko Sarmiento, Jose’s grandson and chief operating officer of JDC, performed strategic planning for the tower in 2015, vertical green building had not truly taken hold in Cebu yet. “We wanted to be known as the local developer that went green ahead of everybody else,” he says.

But the family has had quite the headstart, businesswise. Founding patriarch Don Fernando Escaño established in 1879 the enterprise Viuda y Hijos de F. Escaño Incorporada, which would later subsume the power distribution utility Visayas Electric Company (VECO).

JEG Tower @ One Acacia was built “with the Cebuano in mind,” says Ayla Gomez, Sarmiento’s cousin and brand manager at JDC. “We are mindful of our impact on the environment and to the future generations of Cebuanos.”

While JDC would not construct its first real estate project until 2004, the family has accumulated significant land holdings over the decades, including the tower site. The 1,697-square-metre lot at the corner of Archbishop Reyes Avenue and Acacia Street was sold to the family for around PHP10,000 (preinflation) in the early 1950s.

“My grandmother loves telling this story,” says Sarmiento of his forebear, Rosa Maria Garcia. “She and my great-grandmother (Señora Teresa Escaño Garcia) purchased it back then, and they had to pay in cash. She keeps saying that she was so scared at that time.”

What had been “worth nothing” became a prime location close to Cebu Business Park. Enlisting Casas Architects, JDC developed onsite a low-rise strip mall, One Acacia Place, in the mid-2000s, with plans for vertical development in the next 10 years or so. “We wanted to learn the industry first,” says Sarmiento.

The North Carolina-educated executive presumed an intelligent, eco-conscious building would not pass muster with his elders at the JDC board. “We weren’t sure how they would react to it because going green is a more modern idea,” he says. “But they were very receptive to it because they knew we had to differentiate our product.”

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