Rules to come for downtown amid heritage district dreams

PRESERVING the facade of downtown Cebu City may mean businesses have to comply with stricter guidelines.

Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia proposed an ordinance that will turn the downtown area into a heritage district to protect its historical and cultural significance.

The ordinance would form the Cebu City Heritage District Council, which would determine the heritage district’s policies and guidelines.

Should the ordinance be passed, the facade of buildings in the heritage district may be regulated to fit a look approved by the Council.

The Council could adopt policies such as restricting certain natures of businesses that do not fit the heritage district, restricting the height or design of buildings, and implementing regulations to preserve the heritage elements in the area.

The heritage district will cover elements such as heritage buildings and landmarks, cultural landscapes and public spaces, heritage interpretation programs, and heritage development and conservation guidelines.

Garcia said even the City Government might have to move its offices that do not fit the heritage district from the downtown area to the South Road Properties (SRP).

“We won’t necessarily be moving businesses. For us in the City Government, we will transfer some offices, especially those that are not related to tourism to the SRP,” he told SunStar Cebu Thursday, May 4, 2023.

Garcia assured that whatever policy the heritage district council makes, it will not be retroactive.

This means current businesses will most likely not be affected including mid- to high-rise buildings already completed in the area.

However, businesses may be encouraged to follow the policy.

“As part of making it a heritage district, we are thinking of incentives to property owners. We can give tax breaks for RPTs (real property taxes). That is something the City can do to encourage compliance,” said the vice mayor.

Not first attempt

The plan to turn the downtown area into a heritage district has long been attempted by city officials.

In 2004, then councilor Arsenio Pacaña attempted to form the Cebu Old Town Conservation Council, but the proposal was shelved.

Former mayor Tomas Osmeña also refused to allow high-rise buildings to be built on Colon St. to protect the surrounding historical sites.

Downtown includes the intersection of V. Rama Ave. and N. Bacalso Ave., proceeding to P. Del Rosario St., then to Imus St., and continuing to the intersection with General Maxilom Ave. and Tejero Creek. It will also affect the endpoint of Tejero Creek at Pier CPA (Cebu Port Authority), then along the CPA shoreline up to the boundary line of Barangay Sto. Niño, and along the shoreline to Quezon Blvd.

Finally, the district also covers Abellana St., the intersection with Gen. Gines St., the intersection with R. Magsaysay St., and the intersection with J.M. Basa St., before returning to the starting point of the V. Rama – N. Bacalso intersection.


Tourism industry players expressed support for the ordinance as creating a heritage district will bring more tourists who may be interested in knowing the history of Cebu City. Still, they stressed the importance of beautification of the Cebu City downtown for this to succeed.

Alfred Reyes, president of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (Hrrac), told SunStar Cebu Thursday that Cebu City has deep roots in terms of the historical significance of the country.

There are tourists, foreign or local, who are enthusiastic about knowing the background and history of a place, so converting the downtown area of Cebu City into a historic site is a good move.

He added that this translates to more tour packages, promos and accommodations that will be specific to the historical district.

Mary Grace Melendres, president emeritus of the Cebu Association of Tour Guides, told SunStar Cebu that the proposal will “create a new look of our downtown that will be more enticing to our tourists to explore and appreciate our cultural heritage.”

Melendres said if the proposal proceeds, the City Government has to focus on the repairs of roads and drainage systems to make it safer for pedestrians and tourists to walk around the downtown area.

“As tour guides, we usually conduct a walking tour in the downtown area, and we always encounter problems of open canals, flooded roads, and no special lanes for pedestrians. So I hope with this project, they will see to it that these should be added,” she said.