This is the second annual Ho Chi Minh City construction update (here is the 2019 construction update), and what a difference a year makes. At the end of 2019 Vietnam had recorded over 7% GDP annual growth, capping off a record decade of growth. And then COVID-19 struck.
With international travel all but closed down, the travel industry has been devastated by the pandemic. Vietnam though has been one of the success stories in containing the virus, and it looks set to become one of the few countries to at least hold onto a positive growth rate for 2020.
Construction and infrastructure projects are still going ahead despite the downturn. There is of course a delayed effect here, as projects that have already been financed are still progressing in the hope that things will be better on the other side. Big public infrastructure projects are also going ahead. Governments around the world are continuing to spend on infrastructure in a bid to keep people employed during these times.
It might be a different story next year if the pandemic continues to the end of 2021. There are already a record number of hotel closures, so adding more hotels to an oversupplied inventory is going to put more pressure on remaining hotels.
Here is a general overview of the major construction and infrastructure projects in Ho Chi Minh City that are under construction or has been announced.
Major Construction Projects
Spirit Of Saigon
After many delays and false starts, the Spirit of Saigon awoke from its slumber. Work on the basement was completed in 2017, and after a two-year break the project resumed in October 2019. Work temporarily stopped midway through 2020 when damage was reported at the neighbouring Fine Arts Museum due to construction vibration.
[Spirit of Saigon construction – 06/08/2020.]
Read more about the Spirit of Saigon.
Ben Thanh Plaza And Le Loi Underground Mall
The Ben Thanh underground plaza is the main interchange station where three lines of future metro will eventually converge. There is a separate metro update in this report, though it’s worth mentioning the station section separately as it will also be an underground shopping plaza. This interchange will be the first time a new metro in Asia has built a 3-line interchange at the beginning, and news reports are not appreciating how ambitious this station is.
New renderings were released in 2020, giving another glimpse of what the final design might look like.
As part of the construction there will also be an underground plaza that runs from Ben Thanh to the Opera House. Unfortunately an investor has not been found yet, so the city is looking at the prospect of construction being done separately. So after the metro is running the streets will be dug up again the build the underground mall. That will mean more blue fences on Le Loi for years to come. This should be the highest priority to build it at the same time.
[Metro construction at Ben Thanh Market.]
Empire City is one of the major riverside projects in the Thu Thiem new urban area of District 2. After years of delays, work began in 2019. This is being built in separate stages by different developers, with the signature tower by Buro-OS being the last section.
[Empire City under construction 14/11/20.]
There was speculation that the main tower was going to be increased in height. The current plan is for 88 floors at 333 metres. Land for the main tower was being prepared at the time of this post.
[Land for Empire City main tower – 14/11/20.]
Read more about Empire City.
Thu Thiem Eco Smart City
Thu Thiem Eco Smart City (previously known as Lotte Eco Smart City) was originally planned to break ground in 2015, but it continues to be delayed. Part of Lotte’s allotment was on the site of the Thu Thiem Church on the riverfront. After a battle to save the church, the government recognized the church as a historic relic, so the plan had to be scaled down. In July 2020 the project was approved to continue.
[Thu Thiem Church at site of Thu Thiem Eco Smart City – 14/11/20]
Read more about Thu Thiem Eco Smart City.
After experiencing some construction stoppages, the Hilton Saigon is almost finished. This will be the third Hilton in Vietnam, behind Hanoi and Danang.
[Hilton Saigon – 12/07/20.]
Hyatt Place Hyatt House Tower
The Hyatt Place Hyatt House Tower is part of the Eco Green Saigon project currently under construction in District 7. The design of this feature tower was announced at the end of 2019, and it was scheduled to start construction in 2020. The tower will be 275 metres, putting it third on the list of tallest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City (after Landmark 81 and the future Empire City tower).
Metropole Thu Thiem
Metropole Thu Thiem is one of the main riverfront projects of the Thu Thiem area. It’s next to the new bridge so it has a prominent location. Work is progressing well here, and at the current rate, it’s going to be finished before Empire City and Eco Smart City.
[The Metropole 14 November 2020.]
New Opera House
[The Metropole Opera Residences]
In front of the Metropole Opera Residences project is the site of a new opera house. Earlier in 2020, the city announced a design contest for the $64mn opera house. It is hoped that the contest will attract world-leading architects to come up with an iconic design that will become a future landmark of the city. If it’s great then perhaps it will give the city a Guggenheim effect.
With the opera house being next to the new bridge, the Metropole development has been using imagery of the Sydney Opera House as a placeholder in lieu of the confirmed design. Will Saigon have its own bridge and opera house combo like Sydney?
[The Metropole with the Sydney Opera House in lieu of the confirmed design.]
23/9 Park Landscaping
Next to the future Ben Thanh Plaza and opposite the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lau is 23/9 Park. At the start of the year a winner was announced for a design competition to re-landscape the park.
Capitaland Tower / Sun Tower
The Capitaland Tower (also known as Sun Tower) is a 55 floor / 240-metre tower in the Bason redevelopment area. Work briefly began in 2018 before stopping. Now in 2020 work has restarted on the project, though like the rest of the Bason project there have been very few updates from the developers about what is going on.
Sunshine Tower is a proposed 370-metre twin tower in District 1. This project started appearing on real estate websites at the start of the year, but there is no mention of it from the developer’s website (Sun Group). It’s posted here for the public record, though it’s more likely to end up on the never-built projects of Saigon.
Read more about Sunshine Tower.
The rise and fall of Alpha King
In 2018 Alpha King burst onto the scene with a launch party at the Independence Palace with the slogan “transform the city skyline”.
They resurrected two projects that had stalled (renamed Alpha City and Alpha Town), and took over a building at the Vincom Golden River site (The Centennial). They built a showroom at Golden River, and word was that they were looking to acquire more abandoned plots of “Golden Land” (the name given to prominent vacant lots in District 1).
[Alpha King projects: Alpha Town, Alpha City, The Centennial.]
Work was underway on the basements of Alpha Town and Alpha City, and The Centennial was about halfway finished when work stopped in early 2020.
[Crane removal at The Centennial.]
By October 2020 the Alpha King showroom was being dismantled, and the alphakingvn.com website is blank.
[Alpha King showroom being dismantled – 24 October 2020.]
[Concreting works on Le Loi section of Line 1 – 27 Aug 2020.]
Line 1 of the HCMC Metro is slowly but surely making progress. The target date for opening is still for the end of December 2021, though given the track record of delays no one is expecting that. It’s worth remembering that first metro lines are often delayed, as shown with this comparison of cost and construction times of first metro lines in Asia.
Line 2 is now back on track after being put on hold for a few years. Most of the land has been acquired near the future metro stations, and if you drive down CMT8 Road you can see buildings being demolished in preparation.
[Demolition for Dan Chu Station – 25 October 2020]
Here is the full Ho Chi Minh City Metro construction update for 2020.
Long Thanh International Airport
After years of talks and planning, it appears that this mega project is actually going ahead. The land for the site has been cleared and handed over, and in November 2020 the government officially approved construction. Work is set to begin in December 2020.
Read more about Long Thanh International Airport.
Thu Thiem 2 Bridge
At the risk of sounding repetitive by using the phrase “after years of delays” for so many projects, after years of delays this project made good progress in 2020.
[Thu Thiem 2 Bridge and city skyline 05/09/20.]
At the time of this post, the bridge is about two-thirds complete, but work has almost ground to a halt again. One of the known issues is that the land on the District 1 side hasn’t been handed over to the developer. The land is owned by Ba Son Corporation and Naval Command Zone 2. In 2018 the chairman of the HCM City People’s Committee called on the Ministry of Defence to hand over land for construction of the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge. It’s now 2020 and the land has not been handed over.
On the land that hasn’t been fully handed over, work has been going ahead as best it can. Workers built scaffolding around a tree, as apparently they have not been allowed to clear this section of land.
[Thu Thiem 2 Bridge construction – 17 Oct 2020.]
This problem has also happened with the expansion of Tan Son Nhat (the current airport, which is surrounded by land controlled by the military). The city has failed to elicit a response from the Ministry of National Defense about handing over land.
Next time an editor asks for a comment from a Vietnamese ministry, I’ll tell them that they don’t even reply to the government of the country’s largest city. https://t.co/7p7tYJOLDJ pic.twitter.com/IVvamkUzdL
— Michael Tatarski (@miketatarski) October 21, 2020
Read more about the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge.
Stalled and abandoned projects
[The abandoned Saigon One Tower.]
I keep a list of stalled and abandoned projects so I won’t rehash them on this page. I will make an exception for the One Saigon project, which still remains as the most prominent abandoned building on the city skyline. I’ve heard talk in the building community that it has been acquired, but I have heard such talk before. Hopefully, the Saigon 2021 construction report will bring good news about this.
Another prominent empty block is the SJC Building site on Le Loi. Hanwha Life Insurance submitted a proposal to the city to acquire the SJC Building in District 1.
Read the full list of stalled/abandoned construction projects in Saigon.
Corruption and red tape
[The abandoned City Planning Exhibition Center in Thu Thiem.]
Many of the stalled and abandoned projects have been due to corruption and red tape issues. To the government’s credit, they have been going after offenders and putting former party members in jail. And not just low-level cadres. The former HCMC Vice Chairman was jailed for his involvement in the sale of land at 8-12 Le Duan Street (the Lavenue Crown project).
There are also investigations of land sales that caused serious losses to the state at 2-4-6 Hai Ba Trung Street (Me Linh Tower) and 15 Thi Sach Street (Novaland Madison).
As for red tape, the city was looking to remove administrative roadblocks to help restart some of the abandoned projects in the city centre. Layers of government at ward and district levels are going to be reduced in 2021, saving money and paperwork. And the three districts that make up the eastern half of Ho Chi Minh City (District2, District 9, Thu Duc District), will be merge into one district, tentatively known as Thu Duc City.