ROOM FOR GROWTH
The busy district surrounding Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport is developing rapidly into a new CBD
Downtown Shanghai is a fascinating spectacle – two time-warped cityscapes divided by the snaking Huangpu River. On the west bank, The Bund’s magnificent colonial architecture forms an impressive façade to Puxi, the historic and cultural centre, while across the river futuristic skyscrapers signal the gleaming new metropolis of Pudong.
The younger eastern district has captured the lion’s share of modern business activity, thanks to key infrastructure and financial institutions such as Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone and two of three Shanghai Stock Exchanges, plus international facilities including the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Centre.
But the landscape is set to shift again as a new CBD starts to emerge. Back in 2009, the government began planting seeds for a new international business hub to ease the pressures on Pudong. Fast-forward almost ten years and the Hongqiao central business district is starting to blossom.
The 86 sq km zone straddles four neighbourhoods to the west of downtown Shanghai – namely the Qingpu, Minhang, Jiading and Changning districts – and has been highlighted in both the 12th and 13th Five Year Plans as a special area of rapid growth.
One of the aims is to create an economic gateway to the prosperous Yangtze River Delta region, encompassing powerhouse second-tier cities such as Wuxi, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Ningbo. But the area is also being tapped as a new international trade centre, with a modern service industry to attract business headquarters and financial organisations, and acres of modern office space in mixed-use developments like the Hongqiao Vantone Sunny World Centre. MAKING CONNECTIONS Complementing these objectives is the third strategy to harness the area as a major transit hub and facilitate connectivity throughout the rest of China. It’s no coincidence that the CBD takes its name from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) – the city’s secondary airport is just ten minutes from Hongqiao’s commercial centre and a major part of the area’s appeal.
Primarily a domestic hub (though there are a few international services to destinations such as Korea and Japan operating from Terminal 1), the 80-year-old facility has been given a new lease of life recently with a planned series of soft upgrades. In March, Terminal 1 unveiled a revamped Building A, with updated checkin facilities plus more retail and F&B options, while further upgrades are due to be revealed in Building B and Terminal 2 by 2018. The Shanghai Airport Authority also announced it will build a new hangar facility for business jets at Hongqiao airport by April 2018 to cope with the rising demand.
Beyond air links, a key component in enhancing the region’s transit prowess was the creation of the Hongqiao Transport Interchange (HTI), or Hongqiao Transit Hub, which opened in time for the 2010 World Expo. This is the world’s largest multimodal transportation centre, connecting air, rail, road and subway in one giant facility. The complex directly links the (domestic) Terminal 2 of Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport with Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station – which operates three highspeed rail lines to Beijing, Hangzhou and Nanjing, as well as two metro lines (Lines 2 and 10) to downtown Shanghai and surrounding areas.
According to John O’Shea, Langham’s Cordis brand vice president and managing director of the upcoming Cordis Hongqiao, the strategy is working: “A lot of corporations are now basing themselves out here. In the area where Cordis will be opening, Roche and Shell are going to be headquartered, and HSBC is opening up offices here too. A lot of corporates are moving out to Hongqiao just for the convenience of being able to get to places very quickly.”
The Shanghai Daily reported that more than 650,000 employees are expected to work for enterprises based in the zone by the end of 2020. To accommodate professionals from both home and abroad, a number of residential communities have been planned and locals are viewing the potential housing boom eagerly.
“If you have the money, now is the perfect time to invest,” advises Elyn Hu, Sofitel Shanghai Hongqiao’s director of sales and marketing. “Residential sales of apartments are going up – three years ago the sale was about RMB40,000 [US$5,795] per sqm, now it is RMB78,000 [US$11,300] per sqm as confidence in the region grows and we see more residents.”
ENTICE THE MICE
The opening of the Shanghai National Exhibition and Convention Centre (NECC) – in stages from September 2014 to June 2015 – was a watershed moment for the area. The enormous, silver four-leaf clover structure is the largest single-building event space in the world at 1.47 million sqm. Indoor space includes 13 large exhibition halls (28,800 sqm each), three small halls (10,000 sqm each), more than 60 meeting rooms of differing size and a commercial centre providing additional support in the form of VIP lounges, F&B facilities, entertainment and boutique shops.
Some of China’s biggest annual shows have already shifted from Pudong to the NECC. In 2015, for example, a total of 928,000 visitors came to the 16th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition (Auto Shanghai), with more expected at the event’s 17th edition (which happened last month).
The unusual clover shape of the NECC is both an architectural statement and a nod to the green initiatives that are being applied to the area, with the government committed to transforming the entire CBD into a low-carbon and green construction community.
Another example of this is the modern glass-fronted, mixed-use project being developed directly opposite the NECC – the Hongqiao World Center development from the Greenland Group, which has achieved LEED Gold certification. When complete, the development will house the five-star Primus and four-star Qube hotels, plus a luxury serviced residence, shopping centre, office space and other support facilities for the exhibition centre.
Mini Wang, director of marketing and communications for Greenland Hongqiao World Center Hotels, reveals even local-brand hotels like Primus are targeting international guests: “We’ve already seen big numbers of foreigners and international companies from the roadshows and activities in the NECC, and we’re hoping to capture an international clientele. Most of our management team have worked for international brands before, and we carry that culture to this Chinese-brand hotel.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator that the Hongqiao CBD is really starting to boom is the sudden wave of five-star international hotels flocking to the region. Last year saw the opening of Intercontinental Shanghai NECC, the Sofitel Shanghai Hongqiao, Le Meridien Shanghai Minhang, and Gran Melia Shanghai Hongqiao. This year they have already been joined by Hilton Garden Inn, with Langham’s Cordis Hongqiao, Hyatt Place and Ritz-Carlton also set to open soon.
Leisure options catering to international travellers are also increasing. The Hub is one such example, a 62,000 sqm shopping complex located about a fiveminute walk from Hongqiao Railway Station. The South Mall contains a six-storey shopping centre and performance hall, while the North Mall is mainly comprised of offices, high-end restaurants and a five-star hotel. It also provides an airport check-in and shuttle bus service – the only shopping mall in Shanghai to offer this function.
At present, more than 85 per cent of the planned Hongqiao CBD is under development or has been leased to various commercial tenants. In other words, the district is enjoying the final calm before the storm. The story of the next 12 months will no doubt be a whirlwind of new openings, international events, business development and economic growth.
Clockwise from top left: Hongqiao Transport Interchange; Intercontinental NECC; and Hongqiao Railway Station
This image and below: Hongqiao World Center